Part One – The Lowlands
The book opens with people going to ‘The Silent Vale’ with a young man called Elii and a young Herder, and it is a journey filled with danger. The group of people travelling with the two men, are orphans. In this land there is danger from gypsies and bandits but a Herder, and the wrath of the Order, normally frighten them off. It was the Herder’s first time away from the cloisters. Apparently they can see the ghosts of the Oldtimers, those who were around in the Great White, and it was a gift from Lud to protect them from evil. The Silent Vale is close to the Blacklands, which is the land that is still dead from the radiation. The children are going to mine radioactive whitestick, which allows the orphans to serve a purpose in the community, and since the journey was fraught with danger, they are the most expendable. The whitestick is dangerous on contact and the land is close to those that are tainted, no sane person would go there. The whitestick once removed of all poisons is versatile and is used in nearly anything and everything, and is used by the Herders.
It is the first time the narrator has gone on this journey, and she is excited but scared. It is clear that there is not much known about the radiation and the Blacklands, because it is thought that maybe looking at them might do harm, though I don’t see how looking at them could do any more harm than being in a position to look at them. But it just shows how clueless the people are when it comes to the science of the radiation. Obviously the young Herder has much to learn, if Elii knows what Herders are supposed to do more than he does. I wonder what the ‘obelisk’ actually was, was it from a time gone past, or did the Herders put it there for protect? And what purpose would it have served in the old community?
It is clear that our narrator that has remained nameless, is not very friendly towards this girl, Rosamunde. In fact she even thinks if her contact will reflect badly on her, as if being an orphan is not the worst fate of a child. The girl speaks of a Henry Druid, who was a rebellious Herder, which shows that not everyone is quite happy with the way things are. The narrator has a brother named Jes, who might become an assistant to a Herder, which surprises the narrator, indicating she does not have much contact with Jes. Maybe it is because Jes is afraid of the narrator’s true nature, which could make them be burned to death, but Jes would protect the secret because he would be punished by it also. It sounds like the narrator does not trust their brother too much, if they think that he might want them dead.
They have to pass over water somehow, it is a tad confusing, I can’t quite imagine it. And she (yes it is a she, the narrator) falls into the water, which could be tainted. The Herder is obviously very inexperienced if he thought that she was dead. The Herder did not think the water was tainted, but can you trust him? Her mother was a herbalist and a healer, but this is banned now, which is a shame, when it worked quite well. The group walks into the ‘haunted’ Weirwood and through to the Silent Vale hurrying to avoid spending a night there. They then collect the whitestick having to be careful but fast. The vale is aptly named as it casts an unnatural silence.
There is rumour that the Herders make a poison to torture their prisoners to get information, maybe the Herders are more fierce than it appears? The girl draws attention to herself again, for a second time, and it is something that she wants to avoid, as it is dangerous to be known. They return to the orphanage and Jes is there, now an assistant to a Herder. We still do not know the name of the girl, though I do know that the blurb reveals it to us, but blurbs are good at piquing our interest in a potential purchase for a book or in a library, it can reveal a lot of information, sometimes things that might have been better found out over the course of the book, instead of on the back of the book. But obviously the author (do authors actually write the blurbs or are they done by editors and publishers?) makes sure that nothing major is revealed, otherwise what would be the point of reading the book? But sometimes it is more interesting to go head first into a book without knowing very much at all.
There is a lot going on but this is really only the beginning.