Publisher: DAW Books on November 1, 1988
Audio: Ellen Archer for Penguin Audio
On her long journey home from school after a fight which will surely lead to her expulsion, Karigan G’ladheon ponders her future as she trudges through the immense forest called Green Cloak.But her thoughts are interrupted by the clattering of hooves as a galloping horse bursts from the woods, the rider slumped over his mount’s neck, impaled by two black-shafted arrows. As the young man lies dying on the road, he tells Karigan that he is a Green Rider, one of the legendary messengers of the king, and that he bears a “life and death” message for King Zachary. He begs Karigan to carry his message, warning her not to read it, and when she reluctantly agrees, he makes her swear on his sword to complete his mission “for love of country.” As he bestows upon her the golden winged-horse brooch which is the symbol of his office, he whispers on his dying breath, “Beware the shadow man…”
Karigan’s promise changes her life forever. Pursued by unknown assassins, following a path only her horse seems to know, and accompanied by the silent specter of the original messenger, she herself becomes a legendary Green Rider. Caught up in a world of deadly danger and complex magic, compelled by forces she cannot understand, Karigan is hounded by dark beings bent on seeing that the message, and its reluctant carrier, never reach their destination.
GREEN RIDER has a very old-school, throwback feel to it despite its fairly recent publication date. Kristen Britain makes use of tried and true tropes, a vaguely Medieval setting, and the class hero(ine)’s journey accompanied by their trusty magical steed. If only the protagonist, Karigan, could’ve come up with a better name than “the Horse.”
When Karigan G’ladheon is expelled from school after trouncing a higher ranking classmate, her biggest concern is explaining the situation to her beloved merchant father. Several hours later, Karigan has witnessed the death of a Green Rider, an agent of the king; she’s been tasked with delivering a secret missive to King Zachary, who resides on the other side of the province; and she’s encountered otherworldly assassins wielding magic…which supposedly died out centuries ago. Talk about your after school adventure!
If the above hasn’t clued you in, there is a lot going on in GREEN RIDER. Maybe almost too much going on, as very little of the world building is given the time it would’ve required to be wholly successful. Karigan herself knows very little about what’s going on – she’d barely even heard of Green Riders before encountering one herself – and so we too know very little about her world. Even as she learns that there’s more to the Kingdom of Sacoridia than her history classes would have her believe, Karigan still lags behind her pursuers and the enemies of the crown in her knowledge of the forces working against her.
My other major criticism of GREEN RIDER is in relation to its characters. Despite spending the vast majority of the novel in Karigan’s POV, I felt like we didn’t get to know her that well. Sure, we know that she wants to make her father proud, and do the right thing, and that she hates bullies. All of these are admirable qualities in a protagonist, but it’s going to take a lot more than that if you want me to connect with a character.
There are a number of characters in this novel aside from Karigan, many of whom are more interesting than the lady herself. There are the eccentric spinsters who collect magical artifacts and bestow them on young women, the turncoat members of the King’s guard now working for his evil brother Prince Amilton, and the mysterious and elusive Elven people to contend with. We are also introduced to King Zachary, and although he gets little page time it’s pretty clear that he and Karigan are going to have a significant relationship – most likely romantic – as the series progresses. Somehow I can’t see a relationship between a young merchant’s daughter and the King of Sacoridia working out well, even if the girl in question is a special snowflake.
A word on format: I listened to GREEN RIDER on audio, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend going that route. For the first two hours of the sixteen hour book, I honestly felt as though Siri was narrating. “Siri, can you tell me what Karigan and Horse are up to now?” Unless the narrator has no impact on your enjoyment, I’d stick to the print version of this story. I think I would have been more forgiving had I not listened to the audiobook.
A fun, trope-filled fantasy, GREEN RIDER delivers on nostalgia and adventure but not much else. Recommended for those who want an easy read or a taste of that old-school fantasy feeling.