The Elements of Cadence duology by Rebecca Ross, consisting of A River Enchanted and A Fire Endless, is an adult fantasy series following Jack Tamerlaine, an outcast bard, as he reluctantly returns home to the isle of Cadence, an island literally divided in half by the blood feud between the Tamerlaine and Breccan clans, and where magic is still possible in the gifts of certain humans, as well as “the folk” (elemental spirits or fairies), unseen but constantly felt among the people. After young girls begin disappearing on the Tamerlaine side of the island, Jack is summoned home by his laird (clan leader) to use his gift as a bard to summon the spirits and investigate.
I enjoyed the fantasy elements—the way the spirits & humans are separate but still interconnected, the rules that seem to dictate a state of balance on the island, and that music is considered such a powerful gift. I assume it is inspired or influenced by Scottish folklore based on the incorporation of things like enchanted plaids and terms like “laird”, but it feels very much like it’s own thing, unique but not unfamiliar.
As for being an “adult” fantasy versus a “young adult” fantasy, I think this duology really straddles the line between the two, which is both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that more readers will find something to enjoy or relate to regardless of their age; it’s bad in the sense that the YA elements felt so familiar that they could not be as compelling next to the less often explored adult themes (at least to me, but maybe that’s just because I’ve read a lot of YA in my time). Jack is a likable enough character, and I appreciated the change-up of his being a hero who wasn’t much for fighting (his gift is music, he has to protect his hands), but his story, and his relationship with Adaira, while not immature, are reminiscent of many YA plots, while the subplot of Torin, the Tamerlaine captain of the guard, and his second wife, Sidra, was what I really found myself investing in most. The growth of their marriage as they struggle together and learn to open up to and understand one another was something I haven’t seen much of in fantasy novels, and it was well-developed, believable, and had me rooting for them and wanting to read more about them.
Speaking of Torin and Sidra, I kind of want to be Sidra when I grow up. She’s obviously still figuring things out over the course of the story, but she has a maturity and self-awareness that makes her seem farther ahead than the other characters, and watching her develop into a leader based on her quiet strength of character rather than strength of force was really cool and refreshing. And Torin’s character arc is a fantastic transformation–he grows so much, but the way he struggles to understand it makes it so believable and realistic. I love the way Ross is able to depict his growing humility and show by the end how he is truly transformed and freed by it, in a way, from who he is at the beginning of the duology. The only way I can describe it as an almost biblical kind of transformation.
The second book, A Fire Endless, probably reads a little faster than the first, if only because it can focus on plot more singularly since the first book does the heavy-lifting when it comes to the world-building. Neither book is slow, though, both keeping the action moving forward at a pretty steady pace.
Altogether, I give The Elements of Cadence duology 3.5 stars out of five.