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Marla Himeda
Author, Illustrator
Master of Music
Marla Himeda, author
Not long after the Druids came to Eire, the Bards mysteriously vanished from the annals of history, fleeing their native shores to begin life on a remote chain of islands … the Bardic Isles. Over two hundred years later, a village boy is born with a gift of music that hasn't been seen since the exodus from Eire. Not understanding what he possesses, seven-year-old Kaelin is convinced his music is responsible for an unforgivable act. Suffused with guilt, he plays his homemade flute only in the privacy of the woods and buries it every night before returning home. Four years later, a Master Bard visits the village and plays the music Kaelin played in the woods the night before. To the boy’s shock, no one is hurt by it. When the Master leaves, Kaelin faces a decision … can he bring himself to follow the only person who might be able to free the torturous music within him? And if his music is freed, can he live with the consequences? Fans of Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” series and Mercedes Lackey’s “Bardic Voices” will love this book, but you will find no dragons or magical beings within its pages. This is pure, character-driven storytelling, and the only thing that places it in the world of fantasy is the incredible power of music itself.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Himeda builds a magical, musical fantasy world that's both beautiful and unique. At its heart lies Kaelin, a young boy with a power that has not been seen for hundreds of years in the Bardic Isles, and his Master, who knows the boy's music must be freed—but at what cost?

Prose: Himeda's prose is like music itself—lyrical, sweeping, and, at times, building toward an unknown crescendo as readers join Kaelin on an adventure of a lifetime. Himeda's love (and knowledge) of music shines through on every page, the writing's cadence making Master of Music a joy to read.

Originality: A musical journey that encompasses both larger fantasy and myth while closely following one boy's path of discovery, Master of Music owes much of its originality to not only the tale—but also the telling.

Character/Execution: Despite the grandeur of her musical world, Himeda does not lose focus, adeptly balancing individual character development within the larger story. Kaelin, while only a boy, has talent, courage, and ambition; however, it's clear that he has a long road ahead of him—a road that any reader will love to discover along with him.

Date Submitted: April 24, 2023

This rich fantasy debut centers on a musical prodigy apprenticed into a Bardic Order, centuries after the last time anyone so gifted has plucked a harp, blown a flute, or composed a tune. Eleven-year-old Kaelin will only play his self-made flute in the woods, away from people, for fear of the harm he believes his music can wreak upon others. Just as he’s about to be apprenticed to a woodcarver, Kaelin is jolted to hear a song of his own composition played by Bergid, a traveling Master Bard of Kestrel, who agrees to train Kaelin for one month to determine if Kaelin truly has what it takes to be a bard.

Bergid, though, is quickly dazzled by Kaelin’s gifts, which seem connected to something ancient and lost, especially the lad’s ability to capture the musical essence of animals and objects—even seeming to journey, briefly, into a feather that inspires a composition. Complicating matters, of course, is Bardic politics, and the mystery of Kaelin’s refusal to play for anyone other than Bergid. Bergid makes some unorthodox choices in his tutelage, decisions that might provoke the ire of the Bardic Council, though Himeda’s interests are less in suspense than in connections: she writes warm, loving scenes of master and apprentice discussing music, discovering Kaelin’s talents, and traveling the novel’s Celtic island world, which is revealed to readers as it is to the novel’s young hero, who is touchingly awed by the sea.

Himeda writes lush, engaging scenes of travel and music-making, in exacting and evocative prose, but the novel picks up its pace once Kaelin is being tested by Bard Masters and also showcasing another trait—connected to music, of course—that Bergid has cultivated in him: compassion. Readers shouldn’t expect a plot-driven page turner, though the novel’s third “movement” contains more drama than its first two, but overall this is a humane fantasy blissout of training and deepening relationships, with musicology as magic.

Takeaway: Music is magic in this charming, richly written apprenticeship fantasy.

Comparable Titles: Mercedes Lackey’s Bardic Voices series, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

Readers View

“Master of Music: The Bardic Isles Series: Book One” is the first book in this new series by Marla Himeda and I would recommend it to everyone. The book is filled with fantasy, music, wonderful characters, and deep emotions. I was very impressed with the writing and the tale. It is a completely captivating story that you will not be able to put down until you finish that final page. 


In “Master of Music” the reader follows the journey of a boy named Kaelin, who has been given the gift of music. This is a gift that has not been seen in the village for over two hundred years. Kaelin is terrified by his gift as he is sure that it is the reason that horrible things happened so long ago. He chooses to play his music in hiding and not let anyone else know that it is a part of him. So long ago all the Bards disappeared from this remote group of islands under mysterious circumstances and Kaelin fears that music is a large part of the reason why. When a Master Bard suddenly shows up in his village playing the same type of music that Kaelin plays and no one is hurt, this boy begins to wonder if he has finally found the person who can help him free himself from what he believes is a horrible curse. When the Bard leaves the village, our young hero has a big decision to make. Should he follow the Bard who may be able to help him, or should he stay in his village and hide? After making his decision, the story really begins, and it is one that you will most definitely want to be a part of.


Marla Himeda has given readers a fantasy story that is wrapped around music and magic rather than fairies or dragons and it is completely amazing. I am a huge fan of fantasy books, and I must say that this is one of the best I have ever read. Ms. Himeda is a writer who seems to weave everything together in a completely effortless and perfect way to give us a story that is filled with stunning descriptions and wonderful details. In addition, the characters are so perfect, and they tug on your heart strings. Kaelin is an amazing character filled with emotion and as you are reading this story, you can see that he is written in such a way that he feels very real. Any reader will be able to relate to him, as well as all the other characters, and also connect with his problems and feelings. There is no way to follow this journey and not care about him.


“Master of Music” is a superb first book in this new series. The story is incredible, the characters simply remarkable, the writing almost perfect. I cannot say enough about it, but I also do not want to say too much. To really understand, you will have to read the book for yourself. I assure all readers, those who are fans of fantasy and those who are just fans of a great book, you will not be disappointed. I am anxiously awaiting the next in the series because I am sure this author will not let us down and the next story will be as unbelievable as the first. 5 Stars!!!


The Wishing Shelf

“A captivating tale with a strong, memorable protagonist. Perfect for music lovers!”  I very much enjoyed this superbly written novel by author, Marla Himeda. Not only is there a gripping, cleverly plotted story, there’s also a young and very memorable protagonist named Kaelin who I very much enjoy getting to know and rooting for. There’s also, as the title suggests, a strong musical theme to the story which, as I’m a violinist myself, I found particularly thrilling. 

Master of Music is the story of a boy who’s gifted at playing the flute. But, frightened that his music is ‘dangerous’, he only plays alone in the woods. It is only when a Master Bard visits the boy’s village that he begins to see things differently, and the possibility of a new, magical world opens up to him. But will the young man follow his dreams? 

This novel is very much a journey of self-discovery. Although it’s fantasy, it’s not full of dragons and trolls; it’s more a character-led novel, the author in no particular hurry to tell her story, keen to help the reader to get to know her protagonist and the other secondary characters. As such, if you happen to be looking for what I term BIG fantasy, this might not be for you. But, if you enjoy strong characterisation, a little cleverly interwoven mystery, and a richly described historical setting, you can’t go too far wrong with Master of Music. I see from the title it’s the first book of a set; I’m already looking forward to the sequel!