In this third installment of a series, a battle-weary group of heroes journeys to a village in need of help and unearths a multitude of unnerving secrets.
A vicious conflict has left Gnome and his warrior comrades—including Arden, she-elf X’andria, and Ohlen—nursing their injuries in Rockmoor. Half-elf Boudreaux recovers items from the defeated villains: a leather-bound book and two scrolls. X’andria and Ohlen later take the book to the Sorcerer of Rockmoor, seeking his advice. Unfortunately, his examination of the apparently cursed volume doesn’t turn out so well, leaving the Sorcerer’s fate in question as X’andria and Ohlen flee. Considering the blame for that incident will surely fall on Ohlen and the others, they readily agree to help the village of Meriden, where the elder, Alzbeda, has inexplicably disappeared. It’s a good reason to get out of Rockmoor, where there’s also a circulating rumor that the group has killed and eaten people. But Meriden proves no less menacing; children in the vicinity are missing, and a dreaded beast, the Rock Eater, resides there as well. Meanwhile, one member of the band, with access to a few magical ingredients, covertly tries mastering alchemy, with predictably dangerous results. Hinsley (Rockmoor, 2017, etc.) packs this fantasy series entry with a host of new and returning characters. While preceding books certainly aren’t lighthearted, featuring bloody encounters and a sundry of baddies, this one is the grimmest. Meriden, for one, becomes increasingly more precarious as events continue to unfold, and the story ends on a disturbing—but unforgettable—cliffhanger. Nevertheless, the narrative’s brisk momentum never falters while the precisely defined settings and characters generate indelible imagery, such as a creature with “two stubby, severely supinated legs” and “three lipless, fanged mouths.” As always, Garretsen’s (Rockmoor, 2017, etc.) illustrations enrich the novel. Even in black and white, artwork of the characters climbing myriad stairs is a thoroughly detailed, laudable rendition of the group’s laborious trek to Meriden.
Swift, invigorating, and this fantasy saga’s darkest book yet.