‘The Harp of the Grey Rose’ was first published in 1985; this Avon Books paperback (230 pp) was released in February, 1991, and features cover artwork by Darrell Sweet.
I first encountered de Lint’s ‘Cerin’ character in the short story ‘A Pattern of Silver Strings’, which appeared in the anthology ‘The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 8’ (DAW Books, 1981). I found the story to be too insipid, and thus, I (skeptically) approached ‘The Harp of the Grey Rose’.
Surprisingly, ‘Harp’ actually is quite readable.
The prose style remains contrived in its effort to evoke the Fantasy Atmosphere: one character is named ‘Orion Starbreath’; another character is ‘prenticed’, not ‘apprenticed’; ‘braying’ winds assault another character; there are lots of hyphenated nouns designed to impart the tenor of Archaic English (‘truth-sayer’, ‘far-seer’, ‘wall-carvings’); and our hero travels in the company of a telepathic bear (?!).
However, a crisp, quick-moving narrative, that contains surprises and revelations at the right places, overcomes these weaknesses and makes ‘Harp’ stand out.
As the novel opens, seventeen year-old Cerin Songweaver is contemplating what to do with his life. He is less than enthused about continuing to live in the small, closed-minded village in the West Downs where he grew up as an orphan, raised by the Wise Woman,Tess. Cerin has some skill at the harp, and one career choice is to travel to the city of Wistlore, and there be schooled by the finest of harpmasters.
However, one day while wandering the village green, Cerin meets a beautiful young woman with a grey rose in her hair. She is called, unsurprisingly….the Grey Rose.
Smitten, Cerin spends the Summer days in her company, discovering that this is a woman of........ melancholy mystery. The mystery dissipates at Summer’s end, when Cerin learns that the Grey Rose can no longer escape her destiny: as a member of the ancient race of the Tuathans, she is to be abducted, and deflowered (this is referred to in a vague manner), by a demon named Yarac.
The Grey Rose is by no means thrilled with this enterprise, but the sanctity of a bitterly earned, centuries-old truce rests upon her acquiescence. Cerin, however, is determined to rescue the Grey Rose from her fate. Alone, and armed with only his harp and a shortsword, our harpist sets out to cross the barren lands and dark woods of the wild to rescue his lady fair. In so doing, he will learn the truth of his own heritage, and of the role he will play in the coming clash between the forces of good and evil…..
As a fantasy novel, ‘Harp’ exhibits the sort of fast pacing and economy of plot that simply wouldn’t be feasible in today’s fantasy novels, where publishers mandate that novels be at least 500 pages long, and issued as a multi-volume set.
Whether you are a reader of 80s-style fantasy novels, or someone who is looking for a short- but entertaining - fantasy novel, ‘The Harp of the Grey Rose’ may be worth picking up.