Ben Harper was once a poet, a musician, and a Renaissance Faire re-enactor. Now, he’s left all that behind to be a well-paid host on a British reality TV show. He’s happily married and enjoying fatherhood, yet he’s been denying himself—his talents, his desires, and yes, his actual Self. In Maggie Secara’s The Dragon Ring, book one of her “Harper Errant” series, Ben is given a chance to get himself back, but first he has to brave the dangers of Faerie.
Harper, an American, lives with his English wife and their sweet, asthmatic son in a small, Cotswolds village. One day at the pub, a man introduces himself to Ben. Ben immediately senses that Aubrey is something other than human, and indeed it’s true. Aubrey is Oberon, he is Odin, he is many things. Mostly, Aubrey/Oberon/Odin is King of Faerie.
Oberon requires a small favor of Ben, like, maybe, saving the future of England. Ben must piece together the golden Dragon Ring, an ancient treasure which has fallen through time and space in three separate pieces, places and eras, all of which Ben must visit. Oberon chooses Ben for many reasons, not least of which is Ben’s ability to sense Faerie while other people do not, though mostly, it’s Ben’s sense of music that will guide him on his quest. The aptly named Ben Harper is a harpist.
It’s quite a trek, some over land, most over time, and between the borders of human civilization and the land of Faerie. Ben visits the dangerous, wartime hall of Alfred the Great in the year 876 to find one piece of the Ring. He visits Shakespeare’s late 16th century London to find another. (Having studied Shakespeare and the Elizabethan period, Ben is delighted and can barely force himself to leave, especially after he meets a young man who will greatly influence his future.) He even visits a derelict Georgian country house in 1763.
Ben’s sense of Faerie is important, and he follows Faerie sounds like threads to find the pieces of the Dragon Ring. His most necessary guide is a seemingly young man/faerie/shape-shifting raven, aptly named Raven. Raven is smart yet respectful, and he and Ben equal each other in sparring intellect. When the two approach the 8th century mead hall of the great Alfred, where Ben is to pose as a musician (Raven can pose as anything he chooses), Secara allows Raven’s voice to speak in Ben’s vernacular, even while Ben tries to speak in Raven’s ancient accent.
“Fear not, my fine lad. I’m musician enough. I just hope—I mean, what do I know from ninth century minstrelsy?”
In an antechamber they stopped to throw off a couple of layers of wool till they were fit to make a decent entrance upon a king and war lord in his hall.
“But if they call for a harp tune, Harper, what then?”
“I did think of that, so I borrowed one from his grace’s music room. I don’t suppose he’ll mind. It’s called Dariole.”
“You what?” Raven coughed.
Ben lovingly patted the bundle he had slung over his shoulder, a loose triangular bag about two feet long, painted in interlacing floral patterns. “He said I could take what I needed.”
“You took the king of Faerie’s harp?” As they entered the mead hall of Alfred King of Wessex, the sound of Raven’s laughter rang across the rafters. “Oh sir, you are so dead!”
Ben Harper’s travels in Faerie lead him into situations where he must call on his acting training to role-play, and although it’s dangerous, he starts to enjoy it. But the violent and passionate Faerie Queen, Titania, wants Ben’s son for her own. She manages to get the boy and put a changeling in his place. She gives Ben an enemy to fight, and something to fight for, and his adventures become more dire whenever she or one of her minions appears.
Secara fully imagines how Harper travels on his music. Her research, although definitely there, is seamless, making the historical locations and characters ring with truth. She achieves a fun and irreverent voice for Ben, a respectful yet smart and slightly sarcastic voice for Raven, and an elegant, confident voice for Oberon.
As Ben travels, Secara gives us some wonderful ideas and images about time. From Raven: “Immortality is a very long time, Ben. What’s time for if not for learning?” And from Oberon: “Time is a Mobius strip. Try not to let it give you headaches.”
The Dragon Ring is escapism. After all, we’re going to Faerie! We’re time traveling! But Faerie can shape-shift. With bright, magical imagery, the story shifts as Faerie does, and the reader must pay attention.
Humans and Faerie alike tell Ben, “Follow your gift.” At first one might think it means his gift of hearing the music that leads him, not only to Faerie, but to the objects he must find. It has another meaning, too. As Ben discovers it, he rediscovers himself.
I’ll be chatting with Maggie Secara, along with authors Greg Bell and Corey Holst, in an evening of faerie, fantasy, Faire and fun at Faire(y) Tales For Grown-Ups, May 26th, 6:30pm at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. We’ll talk about why millions of people love to immerse themselves in fantasy and history, so much so that they dress as their favorite characters and join in anime cons, historic re-enactments, and Renaissance Faires.
Music begins at 6:30 p.m. with the marvelous Hollienea on the harp, and the authors will talk at 7 p.m. Come join us!
The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire runs through May 22nd in Irwindale. We’ve scheduled Faire(y) Tales so you can come, even if you’re a Faire participant or fan.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Petrea’s novel, Camelot & Vine, can be bought locally at the Pasadena Museum of History, Hoopla! in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. The ebook version is available on Amazon.com.
Read Hometown Pasadena‘s review of “Camelot & Vine by Petrea Burchard.”