Completed 6/30/2018, Reviewed 6/30/2018
This is the first of a series of fantasy novels. Books three through seven in the series were nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. This book has only a few hints of the gay content that the later books were acclaimed for. It is a good book in its own right, weaving a tale of magic, mentorship, thieving, and spying. It has good world building and spends a lot of time introducing the characters. It’s a good, enjoyable book, but slow on the uptake.
The primary strength of the book is the world building. The countries, the gods, the queen and her dynasty, and the elves all make for decent story telling. What it lacks is plot. What plot there is is basically an introduction to the main characters. Alec is a sixteen-year-old boy wrongly imprisoned for spying. His cellmate helps him escape and sets him up as an apprentice. The cellmate, Seregil, is a bard, a thief, and a spy, among other things. Seregil mentors Alec, helping him become something other than the country bumpkin he is. Together, they get involved in trying to uncover a plot to overthrow the Queen.
Both Alec and Seregil are very likeable characters. Alec is quick, smart, and an excellent bowman, even though he can’t read. Seregil is wonderfully mysterious, full of surprises that are slowly revealed as he reveals himself to Alec. He is continually much more than he seems. He has a quick wit that adds humor to the story. He mentors Alec in his crafts, giving the boy a purpose in life.
There are several other characters that receive a lot of attention. Micum is Seregil’s friend and part-time cohort. At one point in their past, Seregil fell in love with Micum, although the latter chose to marry a woman instead. Nysander is also Seregil’s friend and former mentor. He’s a wizened wizard who has close ties to the Queen’s court. He is kind of a Gandalf-ish sort of character who also has a sense of humor. Micum and Nysander also help in mentoring Alec a little, each taking him under their wing at various times.
One thing that is very interesting about the book is that the author lets women have strong roles. Specifically, women get to be soldiers. Also, the royalty is matrilineal. The land is ruled by the Queen, and upon her death, the eldest daughter takes the throne. Thus, there are numerous women showing up as supporting characters in the novel. So it’s not just a sausage fest of the four male main characters. And I have to say that most of the characters are very multi-dimensional. You get the sense that they are real people.
The book is good, but it’s a slow burn. There are several subplots running through the story and only one of them has much resolution. The rest are all setups for the remainder of the series. At times I didn’t mind it because it allowed for good character development, but it also dragged in the second half. I give this book three stars out of five.