A young nobleman and aspiring mage gets caught up in an attempt to assassinate a king and stop a war in Hubbard’s (The Dark Hour, 2016, etc.) fantasy novel.
Nineteen-year-old Kane Bailey is sorcerer Master Cypher’s apprentice in the Consaria kingdom. One night, while making potions in the study, a female intruder accosts Kane, demanding to know where King Hugo is. She tries to kill the monarch but fails, narrowly evading capture and bringing along an unwilling Kane as an expedient hostage. Callie, the would-be assassin, considers ransoming Kane, as he’s a noble, but she’s already angered her clan leader, Giacomo Kently. It seems that the Jackal, a legendary killer, had farmed out the assassination job to the clan and will want his payment returned—coins that the clan has already spent. Callie pins her hopes on the “Three Roses,” which Kane overheard the king mention to Master Cypher on the night of the attempted assassination. Neither Kane nor Callie knows what the Three Roses actually are, but Callie is sure that they must be valuable—and that they somehow relate to the ongoing war against the neighboring land of Lonsaran, which King Hugo’s been avidly promoting. The two’s search, meanwhile, will take them to seedy places like The Silver Vein, which is rife with hooligans who won’t think twice about abducting a nobleman—or doing something worse. Along the way, Callie and Kane keep their eyes open for the lethal Jackal, who’s specifically targeted her for his refund.
Hubbard’s story highlights a few familiar fantasy genre elements: goblins rear their ugly heads, and Callie’s clan buys a magic-negating crystal with the coins that they accepted for the proposed hit. But the author concentrates mainly on his story’s human element, and as such, his characters are well-developed. Kane’s noble status makes him rather stuffy, and he’s shown to be disconcerted by a decent meal of fatty steak, sans utensils. He also witnesses debauchery that’s a sharp contrast to his noble life; in The Silver Vein alone, Kane spots a cockfight, a couple engaged in public sex, blatant drunkards, and a bevy of fresh corpses. The highly detailed descriptions are coupled with contemporary-sounding dialogue, as when Callie assures Kane that his use of magic “totally kick[s] ass.” Hubbard doesn’t specify the year in which the story takes place, which subverts expectations that some readers may have for a tale set in centuries past. Memorable moments include Callie “city-jumping” (which is sometimes more bluntly called “roof-jumping”) and one sinister character requesting volunteers for a religious practice called the Gateway to Heaven, which is, quite simply, torture. The impressively expansive plot includes men and women being conscripted into the king’s army and an intriguing, somewhat familiar religion featuring Micah, the son of God. The characters’ quest to find the Roses gets sidetracked during the final act, which briefly separates Callie and Kane, but the hunt will clearly continue in the planned sequel.
A lengthy but thoroughly captivating tale and a commendable series launch.