This book is the first in the Bytarend series. When his family’s desert fastness falls, Tondbert flees to the nearest city. As one unfortunate event follows another he is impoverished, forced to join the city guard, then exiled to Bytarend, the furthest edge of the city’s holdings. Partnered with Sergeant Osric, a man high in morals but low in politics, he finds Bytarend in the grip of evil forces.
Cantan has built a world on the verge of technological revolution. Rejecting the classic steam-punk fantasy pairing, he takes elements of modern life such as the jet engine and re-imagines how they would seem if they were an experimental method of powering a train. In parallel with technological advancement, he creates a magical system that provides equal – but different – benefits and risks to technological progress.
Lacing this tension between magic and science with a solid dose of humour, he skillfully balances the schadenfreude of the pratfall with the actual horror inherent in the power to slaughter more efficiently.
This balance of realism and humour continues in the characters. Both Tondbert and Osric are the butt of a repeating joke: everyone pretends not to notice Tondbert is clearly a desert raider; no-one listens when Osric attempts to explain he is only a Sergeant. But these repeating jokes are lightly sprinkled onto a complex dynamic of two men who are united by the belief that honourable people fight against injustice, but divided by both age and life experience.
The supporting characters share this depth of personality. Unlike some fantasy novels, good characters are capable of acting with petty self-interest or prejudice.
The only area this complexity is not fully realised is in the villains. Although Cantan does provide real motivation for their schemes, several appear more as foils to the protagonists than characters in their own right, leaving them a hair over the line into melodrama.
I really enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers looking for a well-crafted fantasy story presented in a light style.
I was not asked to write this review. However, I am a member of the same writing community as the author and faced in him in the first Legendary Author Battle.