Fantasy as distinctive as you’d expect from the author of the superb time travel series about the ubiquitous Company (The Graveyard Game, 2001, etc.).
The red-skinned, technology-loving, prolific Children of the Sun share the world with the nontechnological, forest-dwelling, green-skinned Yendri, as well as with demons and other creatures more prosaic. Former assassin Smith, hiding from his enemies, signs on as caravan-master to a wagon train heading for Salesh-by-the-Sea. Also aboard are the muscular keymen, who crank the wagons’ clockwork motors; the prize-winning chef Mrs. Smith (no relation); the youthful but moribund Lord Ermenwyr and his stunning nurse, Balnshik the demon; Ronrishim Flowering Reed; the sinister Yendri; and Parradan Smith (no relation), a gangster bearing a mysterious package. Smith’s enormously valuable cargo is a gross of exquisite glass butterflies, sealed in holistic violet eggs. The caravan sets off only to be attacked by gliders—but who is the object of the attack? The assaults continue: by wild demons, then by bandits, when someone on the caravan kills Parradan Smith with a poisoned dart. Smith agrees to deliver his package. The attacks continue. A collision with another caravan damages the precious cargo. And these are only the initial complications in Smith’s odyssey, during which he will enjoy a stint as an innkeeper and be shanghaied by Lord Ermenwyr before he learns his real identity—and the purpose the gods intend him to fulfill.
Wild, witty, and often pointed, if somewhat patchy and episodic; still, Baker’s many admirers will find this one well worth a visit.