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First Rider's Call by Kristen Britain

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pub: Earthlight/Simon and Schuster. 639 page enlarged paperback. Price: 10.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-7434-6113-4

check out website: www.earthlight.co.uk

Going back about five years, Kristen Britain debuted with a pleasantly surprising fantasy called 'Green Rider'. Surprising chiefly because it belied the slightly girlie cover art and blurb (runaway schoolgirl Karigan gets caught up with the ubiquitous magic royal messenger service.

With ancient evil! And horses!) to feature sharp writing and sympathetic characters. As these things do, it did seem to end with the inevitable call for a sequel. So we waited.
And waited.

First Rider's Call by Kristen BritainHaving been keeping an eye out all this time, it was something of a shock when 'First Rider's Call' finally made an appearance. In a genre industry which seems to subsist upon churning out interminable sequels on a clockwork-regular basis, five years is a long, long time.

So long, in fact, that my well-thumbed copy of 'Green Rider' had gone astray and I was reduced to reading the sequel with only vague memories of the first book to clue me in.
Quite brave then of both Britain and her editor to jump straight into the story - no précis of book one, no 'story so far' set out for newbies (as a bonus, also no map or interminable prologue).

After five years, this may be shooting themselves in the foot a little but the back-story is woven in subtly enough that you garner all the major facts quite swiftly after a few pages. These being mainly that of Karigan, chosen as one of the ever-so-slightly magical Green Rider couriers in the first book, has had second thoughts about trading in her life of luxury with the family firm.

There being a distinct shortage of Riders being 'called' and Karigan having already impressed everyone by defeating the forces of evil and saving the king. The Riders are naturally keen to get her back in the fold or rather, the thousand-year-old ghost of the very first Green Rider is especially keen to get Karigan back. As you do.

Lil, the ghost in question, is one of the more memorable characters in the book. Britain captures her dialogue especially well, just tart enough to cut through most of the sentiment at key points. Karigan herself fortunately still has all the qualities that made her so likeable first time around and it's hard not to root for her throughout.

The meat of the story then revolves around that old fantasy standard of an ancient evil re-awakening but jazzed up by taking in time-travel, wild magic running out of control and a short detour into genocide and the rights of refugees.

To be fair, although a good few elements of the book are slightly derivative, its strength is all in the way Britain puts it together. Admittedly, the magically 'called' Riders, complete with psychic horses, are seriously reminiscent of Mercedes Lackey's 'Arrows' series and there are moments that seem ripped straight out of 'Lord Of The Rings'.

But this is fantasy we're talking about and things like that are pretty much a given with most of the genre these days. What Britain has produced is a well-written, likeable tale peopled with characters you can actually sympathise with. The action speeds along with a nicely complex plot and the fight scenes are remarkably vivid for this type of book. Most importantly, it's a page-turner that kept me hooked through several hours of airport delays without getting bored.

Aside from an odd cliff-hanger ending which actually leaves you hanging pag

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