The youngest master in the Bards’ Guild, eighteen-year-old Huw Owyn is at the top of his craft. The Spring Conclave is underway, and Huw is late to the ceremonies. While he lingers with his lady, the Bards’ Guild is attacked. Seeking to rule the most powerful clan in the valley, Earl Rann Dwyn hangs the Guild Master, Huw’s father. His thugs torch the hall with everyone still inside, igniting a firestorm and incinerating a quarter of the city.
Smuggled out of the burning city in a reeking ale barrel, Huw the Bard is a wanted man. Starving, reduced to begging and worse, he must somehow make his way north to safety. It’s a 200-league walk as the crow flies to the one place he might have a friend, though the path Huw must take is anything but straight.
Murder, rape, and the taint of treason – a lot can happen to a man on a journey like that.
This fantasy tale reminds me of Tolkien, in that has that same feel of a world truly alive, that you know has history, lots of it. I half expected to find a glossary in the back, despite there being no separate language in use. On the down side of this, the author spends just a tad more time telling me about all the wonderful setting and backstory stuff than I’m happy to sit through. It’s not egregious or endlessly rambling, just a bit more than I prefer.
Huw is an interesting character. He’s bright and clever, and knows a great deal about how the world works, yet still manages to be enough of a blundering, naive idiot to find himself in some truly awful positions. He reminds me of a Romantic hero, the kind that wears hose and lace and throws his wrist to his forehead in melodramatic angst while all the ladies roost around him, either swooning or clucking.
Those same ladies would, undoubtedly, be scandalized by his adventures. Whoring, murder, rape, murder, sex, murder, and a little more murder can all be found within. Some of it is graphic, teetering on the precipice of what some snootier folks might call ‘good taste’. I say it was perhaps a trifle past what I wanted to read in two or three places, and only briefly.
The pacing of the book threw me a bit. I expected an adventure story. It reads more like a travel log, showcasing the vivid setting more than the characters or plot. This does make sense, as Huw’s story has more to do with leaving everything behind and starting anew than it does with overcoming some great, specific obstacle, though I wish it had more of a climax at the end.
Overall, I recommend this for people who like a little fictional history in their fantasy, and aren’t looking for major battles or world-shaping confrontations.