The Cutting Edge by Dave Duncan

Seventeen years after the conclusion of A Man Of His Word, Pandemia finds itself on the brink of a civilization-destroying calamity, and former sorcerer Rap is pulled from his peaceful family life in Krasnegar to play the hero once again.

The Cutting Edge kicks of a four-book follow up to the series that began with Magic Casement. While familiarity with A Man of His Word is recommended, for the most part this book does not rely too heavily on backstory. Fortunately, Duncan is far too skilled a writer to let this first installment of A Handful of Men get bogged down in clunky exposition. It’s all story, people. Thank you.

Pandemia is governed by four ruling sorcerers called wardens, each with his or her own territory, and each subject themselves to a Protocal set in place ages ago. Now, the new millenium approaches, bringing with it an ancient superstition, that every thousand years the world is shaken to its core. The young heir to the throne of the impire Shandie and the faun sorceror Rap (now King of Krasnegar) are both visited by omens indicating that this superstition is destiny. Shandie will have to keep the impire together no matter what happens. Rap must choose whether or not to revive his long-buried powers and take his place in the fight against Evil, without even knowing if his battered and diluted magic holds any real power at all. Somewhere at the center of the prophecy lies Gath, the young son of Rap and Queen Inos, a boy with an innate talent for prescience who has just received a word of power, and is showing signs of becoming as great a sorcerer as his father once was.

Duncan is not at all afraid to place his characters in severe jeopardy. A Man of His Word was dominated by Rap’s vision that he would be tortured by the sadistic and vengeful goblin Little Chicken, a vision he had ever-increasing reason to believe would come true. Here, at the outset of A Handful of Men, Duncan sets up a love triangle powered not by star-crossed passion, but by the insatiable lust of a key character. He sets out upon an ignoble seduction for, as he puts it to himself, mere moments of pleasure, and he does so in spite of the fact that the ramifications of his actions could tear apart the impire. It’s a conflict that’s both sophisticated and instantly accessible all at once.

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