First of a new fantasy series from Watt-Evans (Dragon Venom, 2003, etc.).
Barokan is a land of magic spirits, or ler, with whom humans must reach an accommodation, while wizards might use magic to command or enslave them. Mistrusting one another, the wizards select a Wizard Lord to rule them and all Barokan. To constrain the Wizard Lord, the wizards appoint eight Chosen (a Swordsman, an Archer, a Scholar, a Leader, etc.), immune to the Wizard Lord’s magic, whose job is to kill evil or mad Wizard Lords. Now old and tired, the Swordsman wishes to appoint his successor, so he comes with some wizards to the bucolic hamlet of Mad Oak. Young barley farmer Breaker volunteers; he’s not so sure about the killing part of the job, but reflects that more than a hundred years have passed since a wizard Lord needed killing. As the new Swordsman, Breaker decides to travel. He meets up with the Seer and the Scholar, who bear ominous tidings. The three Chosen journey to the remote village of Stoneslope, where the Wizard Lord spent his childhood, finding the inhabitants—women, infants, everyone—slaughtered. Speaking through the agency of animals, the Wizard Lord cheerfully admits responsibility, his justification being revenge for the vicious bullying and cruelty meted out to him by the villagers. Horrified, the three Chosen decide to consult the rest of their number, and draw up plans to slay the Wizard Lord. Breaker, however, remains unconvinced, and has a pervasive feeling that things are not as they seem.
Well handled, with low-key surprises: weighing in somewhere between solid and stolid, without ambition to be anything more.