This book with its intriguing, slightly spooky cover caught my eye and despite it being the second book in the series, I decided to give it a go. Another influencing factor was that I hadn’t come across the author before – and in 2015, I want to read more books by authors new to me.
In the troubled kingdom of Zamerkand, the enemies within are as dangerous as those at the borders. For Soldier, the warrior whose influence is already too great for some courtiers’ liking, there is no such thing as rest. Death can strike at any moment, and from any direction. But it is another death that will shake the world to its core, that of the King Magus, whose power alone can keep the forces of good and evil in balance. His successor needs to be found, and that responsibility is given to Soldier. Will he succeed in time to avert war?
That, more or less, is the blurb. Soldier is the protagonist – an outsider with peculiar blue eyes that immediately marks him as someone alien. However, he has no idea where he comes from or how he got here, other than he was born and raised to be a warrior. It took a while to get used to Hunter’s writing style. This book covers a lot of ground, both literally and metaphorically and to do so, inevitably there are chunks of exposition. This isn’t my favourite style – I far prefer a tighter, character-led approach. However, I was interested in the world, which is well depicted, while the problems stacking up for Soldier and the slightly formalised style suited the subject matter. So I decided to continue reading a while longer – then became sucked into the story.
There was plenty to suck me in – this book is packed with events, as Soldier attracts incident and trouble to him like a magnet draws iron filings. The setting continuously changes – there are pitched battles, emergencies at sea, dramas in deserts, problems in palaces and perhaps, most memorably of all, the wizard’s funeral. Hunter manages to make that particular occasion stand out – I enjoyed the inventive description and the way she regularly refers back to the funeral at different times during the book.
Do I like Soldier? I’m not sure – he is certainly admirable. Loyal, loving to his wife despite her difficulties, a steadfast companion, tough and brave – but he is also hot tempered, impulsive and prone to savage outbursts of violence. Fortunately, he is living in a society that tolerates such behaviour, but there were times when I found it slightly alienating. However, what lightens this book and gives it a readable charm, are the frequent shafts of humour – often sharp and bloody, but several times I found myself grinning.
Despite the fact that swords and sorcery isn’t my favourite genre by a long lightyear – I read and thoroughly enjoyed this adventure. To the extent that I’m now looking out for the third book in the series, The Scabbard’s Song.