In The Sylvan Song, Phin Scardaw has created a magical world of truth seekers and those who wish to keep the truth hidden. Symna lives in the township of Galn, in Naulemn. Naulemn is one of the Nine Realms of the Rión, which were created by and remain magically connected by the now-vanished Sylphs. All are part of the imperial Olymphin.
Symna marries Valcomn after a dream told her Valcomn’s brother, Jono, was not her future. Jono disappears even before Valcomn and Symna fall in love, and years later returns with a music box made by the Mystics, and containing the Sylvan Song. From it Jono has heard his yeaphin (similar to one’s destiny) and urges Symna to listen to the song, which was created by the Sylphs. She does but does not learn her yeaphin, and shares the music box with Valcomn. He hears the song and soon falls into a magical sleep from which he cannot be wakened. Jono vows to find the Mystics again and return with a cure. He and Symna begin a trek through the Nine Realms.
There are many definitions of truth in The Sylvan Song, but an overarching one may have been expressed early in the book, in Symna’s memory of something said by her girlhood tutor: “For islands can be reached by any ship from any direction, or they can all be connected with bridges; but to get from one fruit to another in a tree a squirrel would have to go along the correct route, following the branches of the tree.” For me, Symna and Jono sought truth along a squirrel’s path. Among the many they meet are the Hunters, a blind man named Kavazen who seems to see his path clearly, Haphista from a town of joy, the very mean Collector, the selfish people of Irrow, and the Wall, perhaps the ultimate nemesis. Each teaches, in their own way. Symna receives the protective necklace, the Aumbärlath, from the spirit who is the song that is never sung.
Ironically, it is the Dark Elf (now repentant) who most helps Symna find the path to her destiny. Not everyone ends the search for truth alive. While Scardaw has created characters we can care about, any deaths seem a natural consequence of seeking. There is a price to pay for those connao – fools whom the Mystics believe to hold no wisdom – who are willing to seek the truth. Songs and dreams are the keys to many parts of the trek. They seem a natural part of the story, rarely used as devices to simply move the plot. If Symna is to earn the art of iniziu, the power of dreams, she will need all that the songs teach her.
Scardaw has created a full environment, rich with traditions and a broad vocabulary. However, the continued introduction of new terms and history of the realms or their people slowed the pace. I constantly marked words or ideas that looked as if they could be significant — or at least useful — and never saw them again. It is a challenge in creating a fantasy world — what will enrich the reader’s journey in a magical place, and what will weigh down the voyage? For me, the weight was greater than others may find it. However, the world Scardaw creates becomes very real to the reader, rich with detail about daily life and traditions.
I never did figure out why one place was named Phin Town. Perhaps it was whimsy on Scardaw’s part, or perhaps it says something about who he is. His understated humor comes through at times. Jono says “shit” just once — a word that seems to travel from the human realm to this one because it has no synonym and expresses frustration as a created word cannot.
I found the journey worth the trek, and there were many beautiful messages. To help make the journey, take a look at the Map of the Rión at the end of the book. Phin Scardaw’s imagination likely is boundless and we may enter his realms again. If there is a return to the Nine Realms of Rión, many readers may look forward to a second visit. I give The Sylvan Song three-and-a-half stars.