About the Books
The Echorium Sequence is classic fantasy at its best. Katherine Roberts welcomes us to a totally realized world, and, over the course of three decades, we experience adventure, meet memorable characters, consider issues, ideas and philosophies, and become involved in a series of quests that pit good against evil, truth against lies. The fascinating setting, complicated characters, and rich themes offer much for book discussion groups.
In Song Quest, we are introduced to the world of the Echorium — its geography, structure, people, and challenges. The story focuses on two young novices — Rialle and Kerron — who journey separately from the Isle of Echoes, but whose paths cross, so that together they help to bring peace and harmony to the land.
When we first meet the characters from the Echorium Society, it seems they are part of a cult. They all dress alike, dye their hair blue, and have ritualistic chants. Undesirables are weeded out, and children are raised without contact with their parents. In addition they live on an isolated hard-to-reach island, are mistrustful of mainlanders, and follow their leaders without question. If one tries to leave, they seek him out to remove him as a threat and to preserve the secrets. How does contemporary society look upon cult groups? How do you feel about them? Compare the Echorium Society to other cult societies in literature or in real life.
- Who do you think is the main character of Song Quest — Rialle or Kerron? Why?
- Talk about Rialle and Kerron. Whom among the people you know do they remind you of? Which one would you rather hang out with? Explain.
- Kerron thinks: The others were pathetic. Follow meekly where Graia led, getting all excited over a few moldy old timbers and broken lanterns, when it was perfectly obvious the best treasure would be found where there weren't any people. And when he found it, even old misery-guts Eliya would have to recognize he was no longer a child and let him sing. These feelings cause Kerron to rebel and run away. Have you ever felt the same way Kerron feels? How did the feelings manifest in your actions?
- It's clear from the start of the novel that, of all the novices, Rialle is the most promising student. In the course of the novel, we learn of her other qualities: she is compassionate, trusting, brave, curious, and a loyal friend. How do these qualities come into play as she tackles the challenges of her mission?
- When she is imprisoned, Rialle challenges the Khizpriest: I'm not going to sing, however long you keep me in here, so you might as well kill me and be done with it. Rialle would rather die than betray the Singers. Could you make the same decision? Why?
- First Singer says to Rialle: " Healing the people who are brought here is just a small part of it. Sometimes we have to send Singers to the Mainland to persuade people to change their ways, people who would never come to the Isle voluntarily…" What is the nature of the persuasion? Do the Singers act purely on selfless motives or do they have another agenda? How much of what the Singers do is known to the Singer novices?
- What is the role of the orderlies in the Echorium? How are they looked upon by the novices? What are the circumstances that caused Frenn to be sent to orderly training? How does this change his relationship with Rialle?
- Both Frenn and Kerron run away. Frenn leaves the Echorium and stows away on the Wavesong. Kerron seeks adventure on the Mainland. How are Frenn's actions treated differently from Kerron's? Why?
- Why are the Singers so intent on bringing Kerron back? How do you suppose they will handle him?
- Singer Toharo brings gifts of jewelry made from bluestones only found on the Isle of Echoes to Mainlanders. What is the purpose of the gifts?
- Starting with his first encounter with the merlee, there is a series of events that bring about a change in Kerron. What are some of them? At the beginning of the novel, he is angry and defiant of the Singers, and in the end he leads the mission to prevent their destruction. What was the defining moment for Kerron that brought about this change?
- Why does Eliya welcome Kerron back to the Echorium? What did Kerron have to admit to her? To himself?
- At the end of Song Quest, peace and harmony are restored, the half-creatures are again protected by treaty, and the Khizpriest is destroyed. Good has conquered evil. Are you satisfied with the ending? Do you feel certain that all is right with the world? Knowing that this is part of a trilogy, can you anticipate what will happen in the next novel?
The Singers on the Isle of Echoes have mastered five Songs of Power which are used to keep the peace in the world and to cure the sick: Challa calms you down, Kashe makes you laugh, Shi makes you cry, Aushan instills fear, and Yehn makes you die. The Singers can control people without their knowing it.
In the novel, the Khizpriest seeks to control these powers. What would happen if he succeeded?
Imagine that you had the powers of these songs. How would you use them? What would happen if these powers fell into the wrong hands today?
The Singers also practice truth-listening — they can tell if they are being lied to. How good are you at discerning the truth? What do you look and listen for? How good are your parents and teachers at truth-listening? Have you ever put one over on them?
If all these powers are seen as metaphors for manipulation, then who in our society wields them? How?
Second Singer Toharo tells Rialle: "I've had a lot of experience with these Mainlanders. Mostly, they lie whenever they can, and tell the truth only when there's no alternative. The trick is working out if what they think is a lie is actually false, or if it is really true." Clearly the difference between the truth and a lie is not always black and white. Discuss.
A girl raised by Half Creatures, a novice Singer, and a Horselord prince join together to fight the resurrected Khizpriest who is intent on destroying the world they know, in the second novel of The Echorium Sequence.
The action of Song Quest takes place in the snowy mountain home of the Karsh and at sea. In Crystal Mask, the action moves south to the Purple Plains and the Mountains of Midnight. Describe these new environments and how they affect the plot.
- Who do you think is the main character of Crystal Mask -- Renn or Shaiala? Why?
- Isle history was not the Eighth Year's favorite lesson. Out of twenty-three novices, Renn was the only one listening to Singer Ollaron. At least he was trying to listen. Not easy when everyone else seemed more interested in what the orderlies would serve up for lunch . Does this seem familiar? Talk about this and other descriptions of the Eighth Year history class. How is it similar to classes you have?
- How does Renn react when Rialle tells him that she is his mother? Does it surprise you he isn't more curious about her? What about his father? How does this differ from the way Erihan talks about his father? How does this differ from the way you think about your parents?
- When Shaiala is first brought to the Echorium she is described as a filthy, tangle-haired creature - a wild girl. How does she change in the course of the novel?
- Renn goes from moments of being just a little boy where he snivels and cries that he wants to go home to times of being an adult with acts of independence and bravery. There are times when he is included in important discussions and times when he is shunted aside and told to be quiet. Talk about the changes you and your friends are going through as you move from childhood to adulthood. How seriously do the adults in your life take you?
- As far as Erihan was concerned, centaurs existed only in the stories told around the campfire. How does he react when he sees that they are real? Is it easy to change what you believe?
- What is the relationship between Renn and his classmates? Do Geran and Alaira remind you of anyone you know?
- When the Harai captured the centaurs, they could have left Shaiala alone or killed her. But instead she was taken prisoner and eventually sent to the Echorium. Why?
- Renn's role on the mission to the Mainland was to be Shaiala's translator. But there must have been other reasons to take a novice along given the dangerous nature of the mission. What were they?
- Both Yashra and Frazhin possess masks made of feathers and black crystal. What is the importance of these masks?
- The Horselords and the Singers mistrust each other, yet they form a coalition. Why? How is this similar to or different from the way modern countries deal with each other?
- Lord Nahar, the Horselord leader, is in search of his son, and he will not stop until he is found. Singer Kerron, on the other hand, decides to end his search for Shaiala. What was so important that he abandons the search? How does Renn react to Kerron's decision?
- When the Khizalace is destroyed, Frazhin attempts to escape, leaving Yashra behind. Why did he desert her?
- Kerron shows compassion with his treatment of Yashra. What does he do? Is Yashra's punishment just or is it too harsh? If Yashra committed her crimes today, what would her punishment be?
- Centaur names reflect their defining characteristics. For example: Kamara Silvermane has a long silvery mane, Rafiz Longshadow is very large and casts a big shadow, and Marell Storm Temper gets angry quickly. What is your defining characteristic? Give yourself a centaur name. Give centaur names to your friends.
- The kicks that centaurs use are named after the animals they are familiar with. For example: hares, snakes, and dragonflies. What expressions do you used that are named from animals you know?
- The description of the opening dream sequence in Crystal Mask is filled with images of color: purple mud, dusty black robes, blue centaur blood, green stones, and flashes of black lightning. Does the use of color make this scene feel more like a dream or like reality? How? Do you dream in color?
- One of the themes of Crystal Mask is trust/mistrust. The Singers dispense trust-gifts to Mainlanders, because they mistrust them; Shaiala feels betrayed by Renn; Marell Storm Temper feels Shaiala betrayed the centaurs. Is trust a gift, or does it have to be earned? How do you know when to trust someone?
- The kidnapped children make a decision to eat Yashra's food even though they know it is drugged. " We either sleep or starve . At least sleeping makes the journey pass quickly." What does this say about the will to survive?
- After the centaurs are rescued, Erihan tells them, " Centaurs aren't the only slaves in the Sunless Valley. Yashra has built her Singing Palace out of the crystal you've been mining for her, and she's imprisoned the Two Hoof children there. We don't know what she is doing to them. But it is not Two Hoofs against centaurs. It's grown-ups against children." Adults and children and teens are often in conflict. Is the source of the conflict the fact that adults often want to be in control of children both in fiction and in reality?
Characters return, new characters are introduced, and the adventures continue when the harmony between Half Creatures and Man is once again disrupted by evil forces. In the third adventure of The Echorium Sequence all the pieces come into play as the different powers and enchantments clash in a rousing finale.
- Much of the action in Dark Quetzal takes place in the Quetzal Forest. Describe the forest. How is it like real forests you know or the forests of fairy tales? Is it threatening or welcoming?
- When Night Plume is brought to the Starmaker's Temple, we, as readers, also get our first look at it. What are the details in the description that let us know this is, indeed, a totally evil place? What about it reminds you of other malevolent environments that you have read about or seen?
- Who do you think is the main character of Dark Quetzal -- Night Plume or Kyarra. Why?
- When Kyarra is told that she cannot go with the others to the beach to look for Rialle, Lianne remarks: " Good, perhaps now we won't have to baby-sit her all afternoon!" Why does Lianne feel this way about Kyarra?
- Caell risks so much to help his friend Kyarra. In turn, she spends much of the novel anxious about him - fearing that he has been killed. Describe Caell's actions and personality. What qualities does he have that makes him such a good friend? Do you share any of these qualities? Do you have friends like him?
- Jilian is feisty and brave and a braggart. She adores her father and wishes to live up to his expectations. Despite the fact that she is a pirate, she has a strong moral and ethical center. Talk about the choices Jilian makes throughout the novel and the aspects of her character that lead her to make these choices.
- Frazhin/Starmaker is very tender with his daughter as he tells her about his own past and reveals details of his plans for the future. Do his warm feelings for her change Kyarra's response to him? Does it affect the way you feel about him?
- Both Song Quest and Dark Quetzal begin when the Singers are sent down from the Echorium to the beach for a hunt. How are these hunts the same? How do they differ?
- In the chapter called "Coupling," the pirates manacle Kyarra and her mother together for the journey to the Starmaker's Temple. Discuss the handcuffs both as ways to control the prisoners and as symbols.
- There are many kinds of prisoners in this novel. Obviously, Rialle and Kyarra become prisoners of the Starmaker. But Yashra and the corrupted Half Creatures are also prisoners. Is there a difference between being held in chains or in a cage and being controlled in other ways? Does escape and freedom mean the same thing to all these prisoners?
- Dark Quetzal is action-packed with many battles. Discuss the various battle stages. Some of the characters that take part in the battles employ more traditional weapons — throwing rocks, using knives and brute strength — while others have magical powers at their disposal. It makes for an amazing mix of confrontations. Map out a strategic plan for the battle as if you were the general of the alliance. Whom would you put in charge? What weapons would you use? How would you cope with the hostile physical environment?
- At the end of Dark Quetzal the Starmaker is killed. But he has defied death twice before. Do you believe he can escape death again? Can you imagine any other way that his evil could survive?
- The relationship — or lack of one — between children and their parents is one of the themes of Dark Quetzal. Caell, like all the Singers, does not know who his parents are; Jilian is devoted to her father and wants to please him; Kyarra is determined to find out who her mother and father are and to get to know them; and the Quetzals are devoted parents.
- Talk about the differences in these parent-child relationships and how they affect both the characters and action in the novel.
- All of us fit somewhere on this spectrum of family relationships at some time in our lives. How do these characters' relationships with their parents illuminate your own?
- Starmaker declares: "History is only what everyone remembers…"
Do you think this is accurate or is the record of our past greater than our capacity to remember it? Do you believe history is absolute or relative?
- It is Starmaker's plan to rule the world by erasing and then creating a new Quetzal Memoryplace. Is this so different from the efforts of the media, politicians and governments to control thinking and perception today in our own country and in the world?
The World of The Echorium Sequence
Each of Katherine Roberts' three novels tells an involving, action-packed story with multi-dimensional characters and thought-provoking themes. When the three novels come together as The Echorium Sequence, the result is far greater than the sum of its parts. Storylines intersect, characters find full realization, settings come alive, and powerful themes emerge with clarity.
- In fantasies, the world that the author creates is as critical an element as are characters and plot for us to understand and appreciate the books. Take the world of The Echorium Sequence apart and describe its inhabitants, its rules, its ethics, and its unique reality. Compare it to other fantasy worlds you've read about or seen in movies, as well as to the world in which you live:
- Their classroom was on the west side of the Echorium with a good view of the harbor when the weather allowed. For once, the clouds had broken at exactly the right time…Sailors were slowly making their way up the Five Thousand steps… The Echorium is truly in the clouds, and it is quite an ordeal to reach it. How is the Echorium both real and a metaphor?
- Take a good look at the maps at the start of each novel. The Singers journey far from the Isle of Echoes to places dramatically different from their home.
- Discuss the environments of The Echorium Sequence. Some places seem almost ordinary; others are fantastical. Which setting would you like to explore? Which one would suit you as a home? Why?
- There are some places on the maps that are not settings in the novels. Can you imagine them? Why do you think Katherine Roberts included them on the maps?
- Who is the main character of the whole of the Echorium Sequence? Why?
- In the Echorium Sequence we meet a variety of Half Creatures: half animal and half human. The Starmaker summarizes their individual powers: "Merlee can control the wind and waves. Naga control the rivers and the deep places. Centaurs control the earth and the light. Quetzal had to have some power over their environment. [It is] the quetzal Memoryplace, where the history of the whole world is kept, past, present and future." Which of these do you think is the most powerful, the most potent to impact the world?
- Of all of the Half Creatures, which one possesses the most human qualities? Explain.
- Many of the characters play roles in all three of the novels. Each member of your book discussion group should take the part of one of these characters and talk about how he/she has changed as a result of the events in the novels. The characters might also speculate on things they would have done sooner or differently to change the course events in the entire Echorium Sequence .
- For all the good The Echorium does, it is not a perfect society. What are its weaknesses?
- In Song Quest, Kerron is seeking his independence and to prove that he is no longer a child. In Crystal Mask, Shaiala is searching for the herd - her family. And in Dark Quetzal, Kyarra wants to find her roots and personal history. All three are also involved in the struggle for good against evil. Often personal quests and larger missions converge; sometimes they conflict. How do these personal quests affect the larger one? Do they contribute to success or hamper it? Do you think any of these characters would become involved in the larger struggle without these personal motivations?
- At the end of the third novel, it seems absolutely certain that the new harmony that is established will prevail. Evil has been defeated through the death of the Starmaker. Are you satisfied that this new peace will last? Imagine a fourth book in the sequence. Which characters from the three novels would you include? Invent a new Half Creature for your novel. Talk about its title, plot, characters, setting, and theme.
- From the Singers' bluestones to the green light of the centaurs to the yellow flowers and the black crystal used by the Starmaker, color plays a big part in the magic of the Echorium Sequence. Because we all have our own connections to colors and their significance, do you think this use of color adds special meanings to the powers?
- Katherine Roberts also uses colors to create strong images for the places in her novels, to individualize her large cast of characters, and to set mood. For example, the blue hair of the Singers, the mane of Kamara Silvermane and the gold and flame colors of the Quetzal. Talk about how Katherine Roberts uses color to help make the novel both more real and more fantastic.
- Katherine Roberts relies on our sense of hearing throughout the novels. As readers, we begin to be as sensitive as the Singers are to undertones, hums, and distant voices. We can imagine the sounds of the power songs. Did you find yourself almost "listening" to the novels as you were reading them? Can you imagine the musical background for the Sequence if it were made into a movie? Suggest specific songs, bands, music that would work.
- Numbers have always played significant roles in storytelling. What is the significant number in The Echorium Sequence? When is it used and how? As the novels build, does the power of the number increase as well?
- There are elements of classic literature, folk tales, legends, and other fantasies woven together in The Echorium Sequence. In your book discussion, explore some of the sources that may have inspired the author.
- The power of song and music is a major element in the novel. Throughout history, music has been seen as a way to calm people or to stir their emotions, even heal them. Music and songs have always been used to rally people to causes and to increase feelings of patriotism. Music in movies lets us know the nature of what we are watching and what is coming next. And music has been feared: in the 1950s and 1960s organized groups tried to prevent young people from listening to rock and roll because they worried that it would control and corrupt their minds. How does music affect you? How do you and your friends view the music you listen to? What do your parents think about the music you listen to?
- Friendship and loyalty are themes in each of the novels in The Echorium Sequence. All the friendships in the books — and in our lives — are not alike. Discuss the friendships of Rialle and Frenn, Kherron and Lazim, Shaiala and Erihan, Kyarra and Caell, Night Plume and Sky Swooper, and Yashra and Frazhin. How are they alike? How are they different? Can males and females have the same kind of friendship as same-sex friends? Are friendships only true when they are tested by circumstance?
- The Echorium Sequence explores the theme of trust.
- Singers give "trust-gifts" to Mainlanders who agree to be peaceful. But what is the true nature of the gifts?
- Even though it means that they will become her prisoners, Laphie, Imara and many of the other captive children trust the Lady Yashra because they are desperate and at their breaking points. How many times have you been misled by someone who said, "trust me?"
- Night Plume trusts that his friendship with Sun Glimmer will keep him safe when they encounter each other on the battlefield. But Sun Glimmer follows the Starmaker's orders, shoots the arrow that wounds and disables Night Plume and betrays that trust. Should Night Plume hold Sun Glimmer responsible for this? Why or why not?
- When you talk about trust between you and your friends, is the trust one sided or is it mutual?
- As in many fantasies, an important theme of The Echorium Sequence is the struggle between good and evil.
- Which force do you think is stronger, both in the novel and in the world?
- Is destroying evil and killing the people who perpetuate it the only way for good to prevail?
- Can there be a world without evil?
About the Author
Katherine Roberts is a talented fantasy writer who burst onto the publishing scene in 2000 when she won the Branford Boase Award in England for the best first children's novel, for her book Song Quest . Scholastic first became her United States publisher in Fall 2001 with the publication of Spellfall, followed by the release of her three Echorium Sequence novels.
While some students find writing a chore, this was not the case for Katherine Roberts. "At primary school, I used to fill whole exercise books every time we were asked to write a story." Perhaps that's why she she enjoys writing for younger readers. "They're the most open-minded and enthusiastic readers!" she declares.
Katherine Roberts lives near Ross-on-Wye, England, where she helps with the annual creative writing awards for local schools. For more information about Katherine Roberts, visit http://www.herebedragons.co.uk/roberts.
This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, Educational Consultant.