Review of HOUSE OF THE STAG by Kage Baker (see her website)
Tor, September 2008
He was a foundling, but the people who found him raised him as their child, loved him, and made hi feel he was one of them. He was one of them...until the raiders came and enslaved most of his people. Then Gard, unlike the others, fought back. His frustration, though, led him to conflict with his brother, ultimately exiling Gard from the company of the people who had been his family.
Captured by a mysterious group of magicians, Gard, too, becomes enslaved. After failing at supposedly easy tasks, he's trained as a gladiator and then a magician in an attempt to break the spell that holds the mages captive in their mountain. But Gard has other plans, escaping to make himself into the 'Dark Lord' of fiction.
Author Kage Baker (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of SF/Fantasy by Baker) turns from her time-travel 'The Company' novels to pure fantasy in an enjoyable tale. Baker's writing involves the reader, allowing us to sympathize with Gard even when he violates normal social behavior, yet hoping he'll somehow be redeemed. Gard's evolution from untrained stranger to a power is well-managed, without stretching the reader's suspension of disbelief.
Baker switches point-of-view between Gard and the mystic leaders of the remains of the Yendri people who initially adopted him but later rejected him. The Yendri reject the kind of violence Gard devotes his life to, yet have access to powers that Gard himself lacks. Baker also gives us moments of comic relief, with a pair of amusing demons and a respite where Gard becomes an actor, giving him the inspiration he needs to become the Dark Lord of fictional accounts (dark lords get all the girls).
Although I enjoyed this story a great deal, I did find the ending a bit anti-climactic. Is Baker setting the stage for a sequel, or did she simply tire of the story and want it over? I'm not sure but I think she should have made things a bit more complicated.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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