Medieval fantasy from the author of The Curve of the Earth (2013), developed from a single question: What if a civilization that relied on magic was suddenly deprived of it?
A thousand years after the fall of Rome, the German-speaking palatinate of Carinthia depends entirely on the magic provided by its hexmasters for trade and farming, defense, even lighting for the great library. In exchange, the hexmasters claim one-half of Carinthia’s wealth. Peter Büber, Prince Gerhard’s huntmaster, is disturbed by his discovery of not one, but two unicorn’s horns, with no sign of the beasts they were attached to; equally odd, he witnesses a band of wild giants defeat and kill an Italian wizard. Meanwhile, Teuton warriors demand passage across Carinthia; when Gerhard refuses, they move downriver to attack and occupy a town. As the princes have done for 1,000 years, Gerhard dons his magical armor, buckles on his magical sword and, not expecting to fight—an activity for which his forces are quite unsuited—summons the hexmasters, anticipating a blast of magic and an easy victory. Instead, only Nikoleta Agana, a mere adept, answers Gerhard’s call: Apparently, she is the only person still able to wield magic. Soon, wagons shudder to a halt; barges float with instead of against the current; and the lights go out. Only in the Jewish quarter, where magic is shunned, does life proceed normally. The stellar cast also features rebellious, extremely capable and unfortunately unwed Sophia Morgenstern, her despairing father, Aaron, librarian Frederik Thaler, usher-turned-spymaster Max Ullmann, and Felix, Gerhard’s 12-year-old son. The fading-magic scenario has become something of a trope, but Morden, against a gritty, utterly convincing backdrop, anticipates every consequence and wrings out surprise after surprise.
An enthralling read for aficionados of intelligent, impeccably rendered fantasy.