Meet Lord Egert Soll, a young guard officer from Kavarren. It could be said he was born under a very propitious star. The only child, a scion of an old and rich family of aristocrats, he never lacked anything. What’s more, he also happened to be tall, blond and handsome, a master swordsman and an excellent horseman too. Small wonder he was tremendously popular with ladies. His fellow guardsmen both envied and admired him for his courage, panache, and an unquenched appetite for adventure; even his own father was proud of him, imagine that. Overall most people thought there was no finer specimen of a young man in the whole Kavarren and evirons – at least until two duels.
One day a young couple of university scholars arrived to Kavarren to investigate the background of a certain long-dead mage. The young man, called Dinar, and his fiancée, Toria, stopped in a tavern often visited by Egert and his clique. Beautiful Toria caught the eye of Egert and he started courting her in a very blatant manner. Dinar, heavily provoked, challenged Egert and Egert readily accepted it – it was obvious that the young scholar had barely any fencing training to speak of so he stood no chance whatsoever in a duel. Egert wanted to humiliate him, teach him a lesson, nothing more. However, due to very unfavourable circumstances, Dinar was killed; after his funeral Toria, shocked and heartbroken, returned home alone.
Every eyewitness of that fateful but hardly unusual duel, and there were plenty of them, would swear Egert behaved in a completely honourable manner. He wasn’t blamed for Dinar’s death by anyone but one mysterious stranger called the Wanderer. After some time the Wanderer met with Egert again and deliberately provoked him. The young officer rose to the bait. Their duel, this time without any eyewitnesses, ended in Egert’s defeat; still the Wanderer spared his opponent’s life, leaving only a big wound on his cheek. When the wound healed and scarred Egert somehow lost all his cockiness, courage and stamina; he became a prime example of a disgusting coward he used to detest. Deeply ashamed, unable to face his peers, friends and family anymore, Egert left Kavarren, looking for a clue about what had really happened to him and who the Wanderer was. His journey proved to be far more difficult and amazing than he would have ever predicted.
Oh, this one pushed all the right buttons for me so brace yourself: some serious gushing is coming. It was a long book but I couldn’t stop reading it and I regretted it wasn’t actually longer. It was a book penned by a husband-and-wife duo and still it read as if one writer was working on it alone (and a pretty good writer to boot).
You know how I like flawed heroes. Egert won me over instantly because he was very flawed, first as an obnoxious bully, philanderer and coxcomb, then as a beggar and an utter coward, unable to defend himself and anybody else even if his life depended on it. His path to enlightenment was long, winded, barbed and full of monsters; mind you he had to follow it with a blindfold most of the time. Of course the biggest monster he encountered on that path was himself, with his ex best buddy and a certain murderous monk of Lash in a grey frock close behind. Then there was Toria, a girl too pretty for her own good, and her father who, despite the initial hesitation, wanted to help Egert and even pitied him a bit. All of them were fully dynamic characters and as three-dimensional as it is only possible in such a story.
The plot was well-paced and dynamic so, despite its length, I managed to read this novel in two evenings. The ending was very dramatic and sweet but I didn’t mind a bit of HEA after so many horrible, debasing moments in Egert’s life. I suppose Toria deserved some happiness as well.
What didn’t exactly work for me was the magic. Let’s face it: despite a very tangible presence of different mages, archmages even, I was always only told about their skills, hardly ever shown anything. As it was supposed to be a fantasy story, in my humble opinion it lacked a magical sparkle or two. Also the secondary baddies were a bit too predictable so not exactly as shadowed as I would like them to be although I enjoyed every scene with Karver (the ex-best buddy of Egert turned his nemezis).
By the way the cover art is great!
Despite its minor shortcomings one of better, more original fantasy books I’ve read this year. It was intelligently told in a great narrative voice (third person limited and two POVs). If you like flawed heroes and you don’t care about magical feats so much do read it – I recommend it wholeheartedly. Yes, there is also a strong romantic story arc interwoven with the plot and the book is a stand-alone so you won’t have to wait/spend more money on second and third parts. A round of applause and a well-deserved badge of mine: