Though I’ll probably be unaware of the fact as I’m writing, a large amount of the words and expressions in this article will have been coined by Shakespeare. After all, he’s the guy who gave us “advertising,” “star-crossed,” and “gilding the lily,” though the latter is a sort of abbreviation of the beautiful line “to gild refined gold, or paint the lily.” In creating that particular metaphor, the Bard managed two things: a beautiful turn of phrase and a profound meaning.
Elspeth Cooper’s Songs of the Earth bears a curious relation to this phrase, for it is full of gilding, in the form of beautiful prose that, while not reminiscent of Shakespeare, is nevertheless full of a quiet poignancy; the (metaphorical) lilies, however, are missing. Its language promises content that the story simply doesn’t deliver. The book is a fun, quick read, but hardly has the depth, innovation, and character development of the stories it clearly emulates (or does a little more than emulate, really, creating what seems to be an amalgam of the popular stories of our culture).
The novel begins with the witchcraft trial of the protagonist, Gair – for he can hear the beautiful, terrible music inside of him, the Song that lets him perform magic and condemns him to death by the Church. He miraculously escapes with his life, helped along by wise old mentor Alderan (yes, like the planet). Alderan fulfills the regular role of the wise old mentor, though he does seem to take a leaf too many out of Obi-Wan’s book, keeping both information and his own gift from Gair and explaining the nature of the Song in a way that’s a little too familiar:
“Define magic. If you define it as a natural force or energy that is an intrinsic part of every living thing and the world around you, then yes, the Song is magic.” - pg. 106