Doty (When Dead Ain’t Enough, 2012, etc.) conjures a magical world of witches, wizards and war in this high-energy first installment of an epic-fantasy series.
This dark tale charges out of the gate as Rat—a street orphan about 6 or 7 years old—runs through a medieval marketplace with his “one good eye” fixed on an unsuspecting man’s purse of coins. Little Rat, covered with diseased sores and clothed in filthy rags, survives by hiding and stealing whatever he can. When Rat successfully steals the purse, angry market vendors chase him into a one-way alley, where he hides in the shadows. Unbeknownst to Rat, his hiding skill is a form of magic that allows him to wrap shadows around himself. Enter Lord Roland, a respected and feared clan witch, who is impressed by Rat’s magical potential. He stops the mob from hurting the raggedy Rat and takes him to his castle, the House of Elhiyne, where he and his wife, AnnaRail, eventually adopt him as a son. Rat is renamed Morgin, and he often butts heads with his powerful grandmother, the witch Olivia. She and Roland school him in the art of magic and swordsmanship over several years. After an ancient ancestral conflict between clans leads to war, the adult Morgin has an argument with Olivia, and she banishes him from Elhiyne; nonetheless, he vows to fight to save his family. While the book’s minor characters can be a bit clichéd (a beautiful blonde angel helps Morgin), most of the main characters are well-rounded and have human emotions; for example, the fearsome old Olivia is shown to have a soft spot in her heart for family. Meanwhile, Morgin’s struggles as he deals with his own fears make him a very sympathetic hero. Readers who like action will find gruesome battle scenes reminiscent of The Iliad, with much death and hacking of body parts. A romantic subplot between Morgin and his beautiful wife, Rhianne, while intriguing, doesn’t overwhelm the action. However, the history of the different clans can be confusing, and the ending contains some unresolved issues, which may disappoint some readers. That said, the conclusion carefully props open the door for the author’s next chapter.
A fine fantasy novel that will provide readers with a good weekend escape from reality.