I received the uncorrected ARC copy from NetGalley as a Kindle file.
The protagonist of this novel, a sword jokey Eddie LaCrosse, stands out from the pages – a living man, with all his merits and faults. It’s the fifth book in the series about him, and by now, he feels like an old, grumpy friend, a guy I could entrust with my problems.
Of course, he is a bit cynical and a habitual drunk, but who wouldn’t be, doing what he does. He is PI in a fantasy world, and his investigations often take him into the middle of some dirty conspiracies. Despite repeatedly coming up against the worst in people, he still retains his compassion and tolerance for the human beings. For Eddie, almost everyone has something good, and even a monster deserves a second chance.
Like any good PI, Eddie can’t resist a mystery. Secrets fascinate him, but his compulsion to discover the truth frequently leads him into danger. He also has a penchant for saving people – from bandits or dragons or wild beasts. He does it in every book.
This book is no exception. It starts with a bang from the past – the young Eddie saves a baby girl from a bear (why am I not surprised?) – but then it slows down. Being a mercenary, he doesn’t have a place in his vagabond life for a child, so he finds her a home among sheep farmers and goes on his way with a clear conscience.
Sixteen years later, on a leisurely vacation with his girlfriend, Eddie stumbles upon the same community of sheep farmers and meets his foundling again, now a pretty young girl. His curiosity stirs. He feels compelled to solve her mystery, to find out who she is and why fate dropped her in his path all those years ago. To the readers’ delight, Eddie’s quest for answers sets off a chain of calamities, and only Eddie could prevent the looming disaster.
Besides Eddie, the novel boasts several requisite character types of the fantasy genre, including an orphan, a shady sorceress, a king or two, and a scary monster, but the roles they play are frequently controversial. Is this monster evil or simply ignorant? Is that sorceress ruthless or has she just run out of choices? The unorthodox functionalities of the common types are among the best aspects of this novel.
The tale, a blend of mystery and epic fantasy, like the rest of the series, follows Eddie’s probing mind from a shepherds’ village to a king’s palace, from the throne room to the dungeons. Quietly and unobtrusively, the author raises the stakes for his hero and winds the tension in his narrative, until it thrums like a tight string by the middle of the book. The reader avidly turns the pages and wonders: what next?
Unfortunately, in the second part of the novel, the story goes downhill, and the denouement is disappointing. As if to simplify the finale, the author arbitrary cuts off most of the subplots by killing a score of characters and sending others into obscurity, as if they’re not important for the main storyline. Maybe they are not. But then, why were they introduced in the first place?
The conclusion to the single plotline the author did choose to explore feels artificial and predictable, no match to the original and explosive beginning of the tale.
The other characters in the book are significantly less defined than Eddie, perhaps a bit cartoonish, with single traits of their personalities exaggerated for the sake of an archetype. Most of them, with rare exceptions, could be described with one modifier. A mad king. A scheming rogue. A no-nonsense girlfriend. A loyal guard. A cruel killer.
There are some extremely extraneous details in the story – like Eddie going to pee in the bushes. I don’t need to know that. Nobody does.
The novel is uneven, but on the whole, I enjoyed reading it. Definitely recommended for the fans of the series.