Another independently intelligible outing for freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse (Wake of the Bloody Angel, 2012, etc.).
As a beardless mercenary, Eddie fails to save a stranger from being mauled to death by a bear—although he does rescue the baby girl (named, oddly, Isidore) the man dies protecting. He leaves the baby and the stranger’s bag of gold with a good-hearted shepherd’s daughter and goes about his swashbuckling business. Now, 16 years later, sword jockey Eddie is between jobs (“on vacation”) and traveling with his girlfriend, the dauntless and resourceful freelance wagon-driver Liz Dumont. Finding himself in the same village, Eddie’s memories gradually surface, and he wonders what became of Isidore. Well, she’s developed into an intelligent and beautiful teenager, Isadora, who’s captured the heart of Jack, the incognito prince of the realm. But the least of the obstacles to their romance is Jack’s father, King Ellis; the pair will also have to contend with neighboring monarch Mad King Gerald and his ghastly legacy, Gerald’s overbearing sorceress, Opulora, and a huge, powerful, smelly and evidently simple-minded creature named Tatterhead. The plot’s so mysterious, even to the characters, that, halfway through, Bledsoe introduces a wandering scribe to explain what’s going on. Despite the sanitized medieval setting, speech and sensibilities are modern, with hints that the magic is actually immeasurably advanced science. And Eddie’s professed cynicism is mostly a front—he’s actually quite a humanitarian. The biggest failing is his narrative voice: He sounds exactly the same as a youngster and, 16 years later, as an accomplished veteran.
Existing fans will enjoy this book, but it won’t win many converts.