A stableboy begins to exhibit mysterious powers that draw attention that could be dangerous, and he finds himself a prisoner on the goblin waste as the princess he’s sworn to serve comes ever closer to a danger that only he is aware of.
Magic Casement is a fantastic start to a four book series that I hope lives up to the promise of this first installment. My friend Shari saw that I had read Duncan’s Hero!, and said, “You finally read Dave Duncan–but you read his sci-fi?” And then she pressed these books into my hand, and I knew that I’d be reading these as soon as I finished War and Peace. I had originally planned to pace myself through the series, alternating with other books, but because Duncan employs the cliffhanger ending, I have no choice but to give myself over to Princess Inos and Rap for as long as it takes.
Duncan gives us the basic medievalesque fantasy setting with a coherent system of magic and theology. The “people” are comprised of (so far) four different races: short, powerful imp; tall and golden jotnar; brown, hairy fauns; and tattooed, violent goblins. Princess Inosolan’s country is populated by Imps and jotnar, and while there has been intermarriage, children have tended to favor one parent or the other. Until Inos, who is the perfect blend of imp and jotnar, which has made her extremely beautiful. In addition to the four races, there are four presiding wardens, a type of sorceror, each of whom has a different primary interest. Since one warden has “armies” and another has “jotnar,” any international or interracial conflict has the potential to escalate into Armageddon.
Rap, the stable boy, has a magical talent, which means that he must be in possession of a “word of power.” Those with words guard them with care, believe that to share a word dilutes its power. Yet they are constantly seeking out new words, because with a second word one becomes an adept, and with a third, an adept becomes a mage. Rap doesn’t know his word, however. No one believes him, of course, and this is what leads to his eventual imprisonment by the goblins, whose social codes are brutal against the weak.
It is believed that the ruler of Krasnegar, Princess Inos’s country, is in possession of a word of power, which is handed down to the heir on each ruler’s deathbed. Since Princess Inos’s father is dying, she has to contend both with suitors wanting a stake in Krasnegar, and with those who seek to gain her word.
This is a complicated setup, but Duncan handles it with ease and finesse, and plots a story that never feels derivative, telegraphed or predictable. As for the characters, I’m pleased to report that we are in Robin Hobb land, not Tad Williams. That is, these are real people who demonstrate caprice and selfishness, and who can’t be trusted to be who they appear to be on the surface. How wonderful when authors get that goodness is best served when placed in the setting of a fallible, human character.