Book Review: A Bard’s Lament by Poppy Kuroki

Magic comes in all shapes and sizes, especially in books. There are actual magics, like those a wizard or witch might use. There are divine magics, used by the gods. And then there are the ordinary magics of people who are just doing what they believe is right, when the world stands against them. A Bard’s Lament by Poppy Kuroki focuses on this type of magic, and it was absolutely stunning.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Being a novelette, there is a very concise plot that the story follows. In this instance, the story follows Ella, a bard, and her sister, Lucinda, who works as a prostitute. Both sisters are working to earn their way out of a debt that they inherited, leaving them with very little. In the midst of everything, there is aslo the fear of the Rathole, a place of nightmares, that hangs over their heads. Ella is forced to face her fears when things go wrong and her sister gets caught up in a terrible mess. But there is also something else that hangs over their heads. Something far greater…

This novelette manages to capture a decently large number of events in the midst of the story, without making it feel like the author is doing too much. I liked the way that events transitioned smoothly from one to another, growing ever more dire and significant until we reach the final scenes. I think this worked really quite well, even though we didn’t have quite as much of the worldbuilding that one would expect from a fantasy novel. I got a clear picture of everything that was happening and was just as enthralled in the characters’ actions.

And the ending! Oh, my!

2. Thoughts on the characters

Ella is a truly sympathetic main character. She isn’t particularly strong or powerful; she is perfectly ordinary except in her ability to play music. I think this makes her relatable. What really makes her a sympathetic and interesting character is the way that she cares for her sister Lucinda throughout. She wants to be there for her family no matter how tough things get, and she does that with compassion and grace. 

And that bit at the end, that extra knowledge that lends so much more significance to Ella’s actions? Oh, my!

3. Favourite part

The ending. It was superbly done, with drama retroactively lacing the book with intrigue. That just adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole plot that elevates it to something really wonderful to read. I can tell you no more, though, because, well, spoilers.

4. Critique

My only real critique for this book has nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or the prose. It is just the matter of the QR codes at the beginning of each song. Okay, yes, it is nice to have the option to listen to the music as the book is being read, but they sort of jar me out of the story. Now, granted, this is purely my opinion based on the fact that I don’t tend to listen to music as I read, even if it’s relevant to the story. But I think that maybe the QR codes could be put at the beginning, just following the introduction, so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story.

Overall, this piece was really quite lovely to read. I enjoyed the characters, the plot, and the prose and found myself thrilled at the ending. I almost wish that the story had been a full novel, because there is the potential for so much more story to explore. However, it really works just as it is and I wouldn’t change it. An excellent novelette.