ANIMIST by Eve Forward
Tor, June 2000
Alex is an Animist, a young man trained to merge his identity with an animal in a magic bond. As a new graduate from the Animist college, Alex hopes to bond with a fearsome beast. By doing so, he hopes to earn enough to pay off the cost of his training and his slave purchase price. Instead, his call yields a rat.
Armed only with the ability to perceive magic generated through his bond with Mote, the rat, Alex is cast onto an island where a fierce warrior king is unifying the traditional kingdoms under his own rule and committing genocide against the rat-like sapients who make up the lower classes of all the cities on the island. Alex initially helps the king with a pied piper-like clearing of rats from the city. Like the pied piper of legend, the king refuses to meet Alex's price and hounds him from the kingdom. Alex flees, only to find the last free kingdom with its mad king, beautiful princess, and refuge for the rat-people.
Alex is a completely likable character. His dreams of glory, of marrying a princess, of earning enough wealth to stroll into the college and pay off his debt, are those of any teen. The magic that unites him with his rat is convincing--even his initial disappointment with his animal companion is believable and makes Alex a three-dimensional character. Eve Forward introduces enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing, giving Alex both true friends and deadly enemies. The differing roles of Animist, Magician, and Priest make for an intriguing magic system and a complex world.
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