|Whether or not you like
it, most of the fantasy published these days
is more-or-less directly derivative of
Tolkein... unless it's Dark Fantasy, and then
Stephen King is a common prototype.
Well, meet Dave Duncan.
Dave Duncan plays by Dave Duncan's rules.
The only other book/series that i can recall
that gave me as much fun watching an entirely
new (to me, anyway) system and practise of
magic revealed just at the right pace to move
the story along quickly but not bog it down in
Expository Lumps was Edward Eager's "Half
Magic" and its sequels/related books (which
you ought to check out, too).
Duncan's system of magic for this series
(which i won't go into detail about because,
while it's imminently understandable and
elegantly simple, the gradual revelation of
its elegant simplicity and power is part of
the appeal of these books) is one of those
"why didn't *I* think of something like that?
While this magical system and the implications
of its working are the major driving engine of
the series as a whole, the driving engine of
the story that makes it wonderful and
compellingly readable is the relationship
between Rap and Inos -- the stableboy and the
beautiful princess. I've never before seen a
better or more touching portrayal of two young
people so deeply in love with each other and
yet so totally clueless as to what they think
themselves, much less what the other thinks.
On the other hand, i've read very few
adventure romps that satisfy so thoroughly as
this series, either.
Duncan has obviously put a lot of effort into
working out his world of Pandemia (this
becomes even more obvious in the sequel
series, "A Handful of Men"), its races, its
politics and its geography. And we see a *lot*
of that geography in the course of this series
-- these books will give you saddle sores and
blisters on your feet just to read.
Even beyond the nations and the countries and
the politics, Duncan has assembled a cast -- a
veritable horde -- of characters, almost all
of whom seem to be concerned in some way or
other with stableboy Rap and Princess (of a
Very Small city-state) inosolan. Particularly
interesting and Important are the goblin
Little Chicken, the minstrel Jalon, Dr Sagorn
the scholar, Darad, and Andor the cavalier,
not to mention various Gods who take a direct
and meddlesome interest in human affairs...
Admittedly, this book starts a bit slowly, but
that's just Duncan winding up all the
clockwork, setting all the dominoes in their
rows and getting the pyrotechnic displays set
up Just Right.
If you read as far as Page 100 or so -- the
introduction of Darad is, i think, the turning
point -- i do not think you will be able to
put this book and its three companions down
until the last page of Volume Four.
((I would also like to praise the beautiful
covers by Don Maitz -- i saw the originals of
two of them at the 1991 World SF Convention --
which are Simply Beautiful, and which,
although on the surface simply four portraits
of the same girl/young woman, all clearly
relate to and comment on the action of the
books they grace. And look for Maitz's
signature, which is included in one or two at
least as part of the design or decoration...))