Review of THE ANVIL OF THE WOLRD by Kage Baker (see her website)
Tor, June 2010 (Re-release)
"Smith" (not his real name) is on the run from vengeful cousins and from his past life as an assassin when he takes a job as a caravan master. His journey is marred by bandit attacks and assassination attempts, and finally an accident that destroys much of the cargo and with it, Smith's career as caravan-master. But ti turns out that Smith's passengers and fellow workers are fairly significant people. "Mrs. Smith" (no relation and not her real name) is both an exceptional cook and a woman with a secret. Burnbright, the runner doesn't know her own past. Then there's Lord Ermenwyr and his 'nurse.' There is a reason someone keeps trying to assassinate him...and failing.
Author Kage Baker (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of science fiction and fantasy novels by Baker) spins her novel as a series of linked stories featuring Smith, Mrs. Smith and most especially Lord Ermenwyr. There's the journey, the closed room mystery and finally the discovery of the 'key.' As a result, the story lacks an over-riding character goal.
Baker uses her story to poke gentle fun at humans...with Ermenwyr and the Yendri (a nature-loving race) constantly shocked at the ignorance of Smith and his fellow 'children of the sun,' but also offers a more subtle dig at those who condemn the ignorant without bothering to wonder why they do some of the things they do. The tone darkens as the story moves along, with the final section being both moving and strong.
THE ANVIL OF THE WORLD was Baker's first fantasy and it occasionally struggles to find its direction. The humor is sometimes in your face and sometimes sly indeed, but Ermenwyr makes for a wonderful character, Smith grew on me, and there's a wealth of world-building that raises the story above the run-of-the-mill fantasy. Although ANVIL was published first, in story chronology, it follows Baker's also excellent HOUSE OF THE STAG (see our review).
As a sad note, Kage Baker died earlier this year (2010). A definite loss to the world of speculative fiction.
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