In this fantasy novel, a simple caravan guard’s commitment to a dead friend leads him into a fight in an isolated town.
When bandit attacks on traveling caravans grow worse, Capt. Auriga of the Eastern Trade Caravan Company talks of smashing the bandits’ stronghold, located in an isolated valley quite close to his own home village. But when Auriga dies—by hitting his head during a race—the novel’s nameless narrator decides to continue this quest without Auriga. He finds a murkier situation in Dracheburg Valley than he expected, including a baron who long ago retreated from his responsibilities and an organized group of bandits who’ve recruited many erstwhile caravan guards. The town is populated by fearful or double-dealing people, including a shady sheriff and a saloon full of ne’er-do-wells. Meanwhile, a seemingly helpful criminal has a secret agenda regarding magical shards that are also the object of a wizard’s quest. (There’s even a major local infestation of bears.) The novel’s premise is an intriguing hybrid of fantasy and Western tropes, complete with an undertaker who measures the hero for a coffin. The author keeps the pace moving, and the characters’ “shades of gray” morality will likely keep readers interested—and unsure of whom to trust. However, the book presents some hurdles, including its language: Caravan guards in a medieval world use words like “ideology” and “feedback,” and when the narrator grows sick of the scheming around him, he tells the sheriff, “You and I are going to have a serious discussion,” sounding more like a TV dad than a swordsman. The novel also struggles with a rambling, chapterless structure, in which the narrator stumbles into one quest after another. The looseness may be intended to give the book a less epic and more realistic feeling, but it creates an environment in which the narrator doesn’t even mention his near-amnesia until page 59.A promising fantasy novel that struggles with awkward execution.