A couple of weeks ago, I was spitballing on Twitter about wanting to read more ’90s-style epic fantasy. You know the type. Lots of pages. Travelogues. Plucky heroes. Coming-of-age. Magic. Quests. Adventuring parties full of D&D stereotypes. It was my bread-and-butter growing up. I loved Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Raymond E. Feist, and their contemporaries. I received a lot of great recommendations, but eventually settled on my first choice: Green Rider by Kristen Britain.
Green Rider tells the story of Karigan G’ladheon, a young woman who, after being expelled from a prestigious school for duelling, becomes snared in the magical and political machinations of Sacoridia’s elite. Like most epic fantasy of the time, Green Rider is a story of hope and perseverance, and grows larger in the tellings as the conflict around Karigan gets bigger and more deadly with each turning page.
Things pick up quickly (no Lord of the Rings-style easing into the story here) with Karigan getting caught up in the murder of F’Ryan Coblebay in the novel’s early pages. After that, it’s an avalanche of appropriately epic set pieces, escalating levels of magic, several seemingly impossible-to-escape scenarios, and just enough hints of a larger threat to keep things interesting. Karigan travels on her own for much of the book, and each new chapter reads in an almost episodic manner as she stumbles across some new character or two, who present danger or succour, until Karigan eventually moves on or escapes.
The first half of the book focuses on Karigan’s flight for safety, and leans heavily into traditional epic fantasy themes of isolation in the wilderness, the vastness and dangers of the land, and a young, scrappy heroine in over her head. Britain’s not treading on any new land here, but her execution is excellent. Karigan is a likeable protagonist—and the way she pushes back against society’s expectations are great. She’s been kicked out of school for duelling—not because a woman shouldn’t duel (in fact, the school’s arms master wants to encourage her adeptness in martial arts), but because she’s crossed a political line with one of the the school’s elite families. It’s a great social commentary that remains relevant today. Britain also fills her world with women at all levels of power. Sure, the kingdom is ruled by a man, but the titular Green Riders—who are a cross between couriers and mages—are headed by Captain Laren Mapstone, who is one of the book’s most delightful elements. She’s hardened and experienced, but not at the expense of having personality and depth.
If I’ve got one gripe with the book, it’s the names. On the one hand, Britain regularly uses stereotypical “fantasy” names, complete with errant apostrophes (like F’ryan, G’ladheon, D’yer, Mornhavon, Mapstone, Sacoridia) and mixes them with names that are either directly lifted from our world (Zachary, Tomas, Spencer) or altered slightly (Amilton, Karigan), which makes for a jarring combination. There wasn’t quite the same eye toward consistent worldbuilding in the late ’90s as there is today, but it still comes across as a bit stilted and lazy.
In all, Green Rider was exactly what I was looking for when I went searching for ’90s-style epic fantasy, and I’m very happy with my experience. I’m excited to finish the book, and will absolutely be continuing with the series unless it falls entirely off the rails by the end (which doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. I’m 75% through, and things are getting appropriately wild.)