Ciara's Song by Andre Norton
Series: Witch World #30: The Estcarp Cycle #9
on January 1, 1998
The wonders and adventures of Andre Norton’s “Witch World” saga have thrilled millions. Now comes a new chronicle about the hidden realms of the Witch World.
Ciara of Elmsgarth is only a small girl when the edict is issued by the Duke of Kars: KILL ALL WITH WITCH BLOOD, AND TAKE ALL THEY OWN.
A greedy mob murders her family, but Ciara is protected by the powerful Lord Tarnoor and his son, Trovagh. Safe in the isolated, siege-proof citadel of Aiskeep, Ciara and Trovagh grow, marry, and raise children.
Then the folly that grips Karsten worsens. Bigotry and corruption lead to crime, civil strife, war, and poverty — and the rise of an evil sorcerer, a black mage on a vendetta to destroy all Ciara has, and everyone she holds dear.
I love this book and the sequel The Duke’s Ballad.
This is one of the few books in Andre Norton’s Witch World series that I feel allow for new reader explanations. It’s also an unusual Fantasy book by today’s standards: It’s mostly a stand-alone, it follows the lives of three generations but it’s under 300 pages. This is one of the strengths of Ciara’s Song, in my opinion.
Andre Norton starts a lot of her Witch World books with very action-filled opening chapters – and Ciara’s Song is no exception. The first chapter of Ciara’s Song tells of the deaths of Ciara’s entire family. Yeah, it’s quite the attention grabber. This mass murder is part of something called the “Three Times Horning.” The Horning – typically only done to egregious outlaws – allows any person to torture/rape/kill/enslave the person or people who were horned as well as take anything the Horned person owned without consequence. As noted, the Horning was an action typically reserved for hard to capture outlaws but – due to actions that take place in the first three books in the Witch World series – the Duke of Karsten is manipulated into Horning all people who have “witch blood” (decedents of neighboring country Estcarp) even if they have no power. This action makes it legal to kill your “witch blood” neighbors over greed – which is exactly what Ciara’s closest neighbor decides to do. Ciara’s three brothers and her parents are all killed in this purge but Ciara was hidden and escapes.
As an avid reader of Norton’s Witch World series, I’m starting to notice that death – of good people – always serve as a winter of sorts. A winter in the life of the main character. The main character suffers loss, trials and tribulations but the death (and the pain caused by that death) often are catalysts for a new life (and direction) for the main character.
In Ciara’s Song, Ciara is taken in and raised by her local Lord, Tarnoor of Aiskeep. Ciara becomes engaged to the heir – her best friend Trovaugh – and is raised along with him as they learn the land and their future duties. I would consider this book a “slice of life” story – there are no earth-shattering revelations, no dogged scramble to save the world – just following Ciara’s life story. Ciara’s Song follows Ciara and her new family to adulthood, marriage, the birth and death of her children and the birth of her grandchildren. One of the really interesting things about the timeline of this book is that Ciara’s Song happens simultaneously with major world changing situations that only faintly touch the lives of the characters in Ciara’s Song. The Three Times Horning – which kills thousands and mires Karsten in chaos – occurs during Ciara’s childhood. The Turning – which completely changes the fate of the Witch World and releases forgotten magic and knowledge – occurs when Ciara’s children are adults.
Ciara has two children: a son and a daughter. The daughter passes with no children but prior to the son marries and produces three children prior to death: two boys, Kirion and Keelan, and a girl, Aisling. The boys were raised by their mother, leaving Aisling with Ciara and Trovaugh. Aisling is raised to run a Keep and be a leader while her brothers are both mistreated and spoiled in turn. The youngest son, Keelan, becomes a good man once removed from his mother’s presence but his brother is a bully. He discovers that his family has witch blood and looks for a way to wring the power out of his blood – but the witch power is only accessible to women. So he turns to dark blood magic. Delving deep into forbidden lore, Kirion finds a way to steal power from others by torturing and killing them – which he enjoys. Through the use of this stolen and forbidden magic Kirion rises to great power and wealth. This is not enough for Kirion – he wants enough power to rule the world…and he’s decided that his hated sister Aisling is the key to this power. Kirion plans to kill Aisling to steal her magic.
Ciara is once again faced with the possibility of losing family due to greed – this time from a family member. Ciara has to find the strength within herself to help keep her family intact and alive.
One of the things I really love about this story is that there’s nothing really special about her or her family except their strength: strength of character, love, family and morals.