Love, loss, and the search for truth abound in Mallette’s (The Last Tragedy: Delvonian Tales, 2015 etc.) latest work of fantasy.
Cirie is a young, beautiful, and headstrong woman desperately trying to claw her way out of debt. Having spent all she had and more trying to save her mentor and friend, Yenni, from a tragic illness, Cirie spends her days crafting undeniably effective charms for the people of Pasallia City to help them ward off dirt, sleep, and the occasional unwanted pregnancy. It’s honest if low-paying work that will keep her mired in debt for years to come. Practical and somewhat guarded after losing Yenni, she is surprised to find herself swept off her feet when a young and handsome traveler wanders into town. The novel follows Cirie and newcomer Lanton as they trade wit and jibes over wine and intricately described games of Wonce, a magical board game. A good deal of the novel is centered on Cirie’s home, the Southward Larch, a tavern and inn where she trades room and board for charms to keep the rooms fresh and clean. The Larch—perhaps the star of the novel—is described in terrific detail, from its rowdy wizard patrons, crowded tables, mounds of delectable dishes, and the colorful family who runs the place. Readers will delight in scenes that play out over the Wonce table and inside quiet inn rooms. Somewhat less developed is the fast-paced novel’s central storyline. The prosaic romance between Lanton and Cirie is rushed and somewhat unbelievable: within days of meeting, Lanton is ready to reveal his darkest secrets and eager for Cirie to run away with him. Despite this, Lanton’s surprising back story adds a new twist to the typical fantasy novel, one that many readers will find refreshing. A few of the novel’s more critical elements, especially its climactic moment, are resolved too quickly and without the detail afforded some of the more minor details, like the game of Wonce.
A fresh if underdeveloped take on fantasy.