Originally posted 04/07/12 in my meta/review blog
The world-building of this fantasy novel has the feel of a table top roleplaying campaign. (A really good roleplaying campaign though, by a game master who is not reading out loud from the module.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is also not a good thing either. It is not a bad thing because the writer plays around with a lot of fantasy genre tropes, and the characters are fun and engaging, even if you find yourself trying to estimate their statistics. It is not a good thing because the stiff “Dungeons and Dragons” plug-and-play theology and mythology occasionally gets in the way of what is otherwise a very solid, action-adventure fantasy.
Our Hero is one Bahzell Bahnakson, a “Horse Stealer” hradani and the youngest son of the Prince of Hurgrum. He has been a political hostage in the Blood Sword city of Navahk for two very unpleasant years. His experiences reach a new low when he finds the crown prince, a nasty piece of work named Harnak, assaulting a servant. Bahzell ends up rescuing the girl, beating the crud out of the prince and escaping. After ensuring the girl is able to reach Bazhell’s home city, he takes off on his own, determined to draw any pursuit away from the girl.
From there, he meets up with his friend Brandark, (who had gone out looking for him when he realized something was going on) and they both decide to leave hradani territory entirely. The reasoning being that anyone coming after them will be extremely conspicuous in human territory. This is however a mixed blessing, as hradani are rare outside of their lands because they are universally hated and feared by just about anyone who isn’t hradani. (And not without some small reason: centuries previous to the story the hradani were enslaved by evil wizard overlords who inflicted them with homicidal rage and then used them for cannon fodder. Predictably, no one cared that the hradani were being forced to fight after the war was over.) Still, they do not really have much choice or many options, so into the human lands they go.
Unfortunately, Harnak has unusual resources at his disposal. The unusual resource in this case is a priest of one of the Dark Gods.
Also unfortunately, it appears that one of the Light Gods has taken an interest in Bazhell. It is unfortunate because most hradani absolutely loathe the Dark Gods and really do not like the Light ones any better (for the very sensible reason that their entire sub-species had been enslaved by evil wizards). Bahzell is extremely unhappy and also extremely stubborn. Of course, Tomanāk, the God of War and Justice is equally stubborn. This god wants to recruit him as a champion and is not taking no for an answer.
They spend a great deal of time bickering! (Bazhell is not at all fazed by being contacted by a god once he gets used to it and sasses constantly. Tomanāk is generally amused by this, though occasionally exasperated.) Bahzell claims he is completely self-centered and engaged in his own interests and pragmatic! Tomanāk and everyone else points out every altruistic deed (of which there are many) Bahzell does throughout the book.
Warning: despite the lighter tone of other parts of the novel, the violence (particularly sexual violence and assault) is more explicit than in Weber’s science fiction. While the violence is not nearly as explicit as some other books I have read, I feel it is disturbing enough to rate a warning. This is a very entertaining novel with a lot of action and adventure.