Sing the Four Quarters, by Tanya Huff

isobelthewizard's review against another edition

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There had been a couple of days when everything had reminded her of Stasya-birdsong, bluebells, the stripped and scattered bones of a deer taken down by some large predator.

This was an absolute delight from start to finish. Glad as always to hear about the three strongest tenets of queer yearning; birds, flowers, & bones.

mdfn's review

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I wasn't sure what to expect - the magic system was interesting to me, but it didn't live up to my expectations. It seemed like the author was trying to address a lot of societal issues in one book, which made it a little hard to get into and to enjoy completely.

shays's review

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“Annice had been fourteen when she left the palace for Bardic Hall in Elbasan and while she never regretted the decision, she did occasionally wish that some things could’ve been different.”

As is common in Tanya Huff’s fantasy novels, same sex relationships are common and unremarkable. In Sing the Four Quarters, this is true not just in Shkoder, but in other kingdoms as well, as evidenced by the early off-hand comment that one of Theron and Annice’s brothers made a marriage alliance with a distant nobleman. Homophobia is simply not a factor here. Instead, prejudice is attached to the ability to command the elements. In the neighbouring kingdom of Cemandia, this ability is viewed as unnatural, leading to tensions between the two countries. Annice also has an open relationship with Stasya; though the two go out separately to Walk the roads of Shkoder, they always come home to Bardic Hall and one another. Both their open relationship and Annice’s bisexuality are treated as entirely unremarkable, so if this is something you find enjoyable and refreshing in your fantasy, I can recommend this book in particular, but also Tanya Huff’s work more generally. Although this is the first in a series of books set in this world, each of the subsequent books follows different characters, so that Sing the Four Quarters can easily be read as a standalone. more

katiekat's review

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Bards were terrible at keeping secrets. They insisted on putting them to music.

This was so much fun to read, there's really nothing like an 80s/90s fantasy and the music-nerd in me is always into a bardic storyline. It's basically the ideal version of elemental magic (you make things happen by singing!) which is a classic in it's own right. It's a fun world to imagine being a part of, and I'd definitely want to be a bard myself!

whisper88's review

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adventurous emotional funny slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


coolcurrybooks's review

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Sing the Four Quarters is one of those books that I enjoyed reading but probably wouldn’t read again. If you’re looking for a warm, character driven fantasy story with a queer lead, you may very well want to read this one.

Annice is a bard, able to work magic by singing to the kigh, the elemental spirits. She also has the rare gift of being able to sing to all four types of kigh. Only, she wasn’t always a bard. She was born a princess, and in following her dream she was exiled from her family. According to the terms set by her brother, she would not be considered royalty, and if she ever married or had children, she would be charged with treason for endangering the line of inheritance.

Annice is totally fine with this. Then she gets pregnant, and she decides she wants to keep it. That’s already one potential charge of treason, but then she learns that the father of the child (who she wasn’t planning on being involved) has been arrested for treason and sentenced to be executed. Which means her pregnancy is now doubly treasonous. Only, she thinks he’s innocent, and she’s not about to let him be executed for something he didn’t do.

The narrative doesn’t hew closely to Annice. Pjerin, the father or her child, receives quite a bit of page time, so you know from off the bat that he really is innocent and that he’s being framed as part of someone else’s treasonous scheme. It’s one of those stories where you see the villains plotting, so you know way more than the protagonists. You also know that Annice’s brother the king is unlikely to actually charge her with treason and that if she would only talk to him, the entire affair could be reconciled. This isn’t a spoiler. Literally everyone in the book knows this except for Annice, and they keep trying to tell her. It could have fallen into one of those very annoying plot devices where the characters won’t actually talk to each other… but in this case, I thought it fit with the characterization.

I mentioned at the beginning of the review that Annice is queer. Specifically, she’s bisexual (word not used). She’s in a long term relationship with a lesbian woman who’s also a bard, but it’s an open relationship. Annice has flings with other people while she’s traveling around the country on her work as a bard. That, plus some sloppiness with birth control, led to her current situation. Oh, and I should also mention that Annice and her girlfriend remain an item through the book. The relationship with Pjerin isn’t romantic, which goes against almost every narrative expectations. The relationship arc isn’t Annice realizing, “Oh, I’m in love with him.” More like, “Oh, he’d actually be a good father and maybe I should try to figure out a co-parenting situation.”

In terms of world building, there’s no sexism or homophobia present in Annice’s society. There’s gay, lesbian, and bi characters, and their sexuality is never an issue in terms of how they’re treated. If you like Laurie J. Mark’s Fire Logic, then this might be a good book for you. The lack of homophobia/sexism was probably the biggest world building appeal. Otherwise, everything seems fairly standard Western fantasy with elemental magic (uh, again fans of Fire Logic might like this or vice versa). There wasn’t anything really memorable about the culture or setting. Very generic.

On the plus side, it is a warm book. Definitely not grimdark. The heroines and heroes might have flaws, but they’re good people. There’s some suffering but nothing that gets too bad. Everything turns out all right in the end. If you’re looking for a book that won’t emotionally drain you, then Sing the Four Quarters would be a good pick.

That warmth is what made me enjoy Sing the Four Quarters, but I don’t know if it was enough to balance out the weaknesses I found with world building and plotting. I don’t regret reading it, but I won’t be picking up the sequel.

Review from The Illustrated Page.

ronmccutchan's review

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This has been on my shelf (and in my awareness) for dare-I-say a decade or two, and I finally sat down to read it. What had I been waiting for!?! Enjoyable setting (and very gender-diversity forward for the time)--definitely on the continuum with Anne McCaffrey's Pern/Harper Hall novels. The rest of the series seems very different, so I may wait another little while before venturing back, much as I enjoyed reading this.

haldoor's review

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really enjoyed this different world where Bards walk the Four Quarters and sing their way around the countryside. Handsome hero and daring heroine and all within reason.

talonsontypewriters's review

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adventurous challenging tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


I really don't know how to feel about Sing the Four Quarters. On one hand, I did to some extent enjoy it -- it's decently written in technical terms, and the worldbuilding and plot are, if not the most original, at least interesting -- but on the other, there are a lot of issues. Some of these come down to my preferences (and surprisingly for a tokophobe, the pretty graphic depiction of the central character's pregnancy wasn't one). Some, however, are pretty objective, like the casual and unchallenged depictions of incest and pedophilia as well as the pretty consistent cissexism and some incidental ableism, including a passage where an expectant character is fearful about her child being disabled (it's a fictional condition, but the descriptions read very similarly to a lot of neurological disorders). Much of this is ostensibly due to when it was written, but it's fairly uncomfortable to read today. It's also somewhat startling in combination with more progressive themes, like very smooth representation of gay and bi characters as well as pretty decent handling of childbearing out of wedlock and open, casual relationships.

On a more technical, overarching level, there are some hiccups in the writing as well. Though I liked (some of) the characters and was invested enough in their arcs to continue reading, I don't think I could really actively list off any of their traits. By the last quarter (incidentally, lol) of the book, I was struggling to even remember some of them. Since almost every important character's perspective is at some point shown -- and not always predictably, given Huff seems to have a habit here of switching PoVs between paragraphs, which does not work in third-person limited and is confusing and awkward -- this is a bit of a problem. The size of the cast is impressive, but it's ultimately more of a bane than a boon. A lot of characters whose perspectives are shown are also not likable in the slightest, and when each segment is at least a little important, some can be agonizing to trawl through.

The worldbuilding also doesn't delve as deep as I think it could, with some things like that aforementioned disability barely glanced over -- though the world tries very hard at being fleshed out and has compelling material there, it comes across as more superficial than anything else. A lot of concepts are thrown at the reader all at once and expected to be understood throughout the rest of the book. "Show don't tell" seems to be taken to an unfortunate extreme, with very few things actually explained except in passing or clunky dialogue. Additionally, the plot is just a bit too contrived to play out and be paced comfortably. It's also heavily bogged down with fantasy politics, which would normally be interesting to me, but the lack of super coherent worldbuilding just makes it confusing and difficult. How things connect and are resolved is ultimately satisfying, but the journey there can sometimes be a drag.

Sing the Four Quarters's main flaw is perhaps that it's too ambitious. There are a lot of names and ideas and plot threads present, too much to be neatly juggled, and the problems it's also laden with distract from its stronger suits. Though I personally enjoyed it (kind of), I don't think I would read it again, nor would I especially recommend it. If it were a quicker read with a punchier plot, this would perhaps be different, but its length makes everything stand out all the more.

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macthekat's review

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I really had a hard time with this book. at times it was really compelling and at other times, I really didn't want to sit down with it