The Riddler’s Gift
By Greg Hamerton
Review by T C Southwell
In a world falling into chaos, a young girl has the potential to stand against the Darkness threatening to destroy the last bastion of order and light in the world in which she dwells. Tabitha’s innocent discovery of her latent power causes the wheels of destiny to turn.
The heroine is aided by a handsome hero, and encounters an enigmatic Riddler who may be friend or foe. Tabitha takes the role of a well-known and popular fantasy archetype, that of the underestimated apprentice who is the overlooked source of salvation, dismissed as inconsequential by all, with possible disastrous results. Will she discover her power in time, or will she succumb to the dark forces that endeavour to ensnare her in their evil web?
A thread of romance starts early on, and adds spice to a dark tale of pursuit and anguish. While Tabitha’s self-doubt and uncertainties hold her back from discovering her full potential, she does follow her heart without reservation, and the concept of unshakeable love conquering evil intentions is a notion of which I am particularly fond.
As is often the case in the tales of undiscovered power, the heroine flees from her foes while the brave and righteous meet grisly ends at the hands of dark forces. Although the torturous ordeals of the evil protagonist, Kirjath Arkell, may distract from his dark purpose, his debased personality is never in doubt. He endures some particularly horrendous mishaps as he pursues his elusive quarry through the pitfalls of fate and failure.
The plot becomes more gripping in the second half, where storylines converge, potentials are unearthed, traitors appear and discoveries are made. Hamerton’s heavy-duty prose lends itself to some harrowing descriptive passages of the truly skin-crawling variety, which are apt to raise the hair on one’s nape. Evil is well portrayed as pitiless and ruthless, without any redeeming qualities, as it should be.
The storylines take many twists and turns, but the central theme of the young innocent caught up in the harsh grip of fate lures us onward into the tangled web of treachery and tragedy. As one who prefers fast-paced action, I found the story rather slow to unfold, as a result of sometimes too-long narrative, which detracted from its overall appeal. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the book, however.
The story reaches a satisfactory and climactic conclusion, and most of the mysteries are solved, though some questions remain, which makes the reading of the next instalment of this story, The Wizard’s Way, a must.
It's a well-drawn depiction of a many-layered concept, spanning a world-wrecking catastrophe and the tender entrapment of love that leads to weakness and failure when evil uses such goodness for its own ends. Darker scenes could be better described as horror, against which a counterpoint of music and song draws a magical skein of light and upliftment, producing a balanced sense of good and evil locked in their endless battle for supremacy. Hats off to Hamerton for this portrayal of evil at its worst, offset by a tender romance with all the elements of self-sacrifice and courage that go with it.
The Riddler’s Gift will appeal to more mature fantasy readers who enjoy dark adventure and mystery with a dash of romance.