Dave Duncan:A Handful of Men

Dave Duncan's tetralogy "A Man of His Word" was one of the best fantasy series I had ever read. When I heard he was doing a sequel series, I wasn't sure at first, but I was willing to give it a chance, and hope it didn't become his Malloreon. It didn't.

Some background: The land of Pandemia is populated by what sound like fantasy-races--dwarves, elves, jotnar(Norse for "giants"), imps, fairies, goblins, gnomes, djinni, etc. In actuality, while they do share some characteristics of the usual fantasy race, they are mostly just different breeds of humanity--the jotnar are Norse, the imps Roman, and the djinni Arabs, for instance. And they can all interbreed. Most of the continent is ruled by the Imps, or rather the Impire(and, of course, the Imperor), with other races living on the fringes.

There is, of course, magic. Magic is bestowed by "words"; if you hear a word, you get its power. One word makes you a "genius", enhancing one of your natural talents; two words makes you an adept, enhancing all your talents and giving other magical abilities; three words makes you a mage, and four a sorceror, with even greater abilities. Five words...well, that's a special case, and rarely encountered, for reasons explored in both series.

At the end of "A Man of His Word", Rap had four words, but so attenuated by sharing that he was only nominally a sorceror, but he and Inos were living in the forgotten(literally)kingdom of Krasnegar, with their daughter Kadie and son Gath(who possesses a word and the talent of prescience). The boy Shandie had become Imperor Emshandar, and married the beauteous Eshiala. Ylo, last survivor of a family Shandie's father had eradicated for supposed treason, was Shandie's attendant.

But a God appeared to Rap, and told him that he had made a horrible mistake in leaving Warlock Zinixo alive, even unable to use magic, since he had votaries that could perform magic for him. He had to warn Shandie of the danger somehow...

Meanwhile, in the country of Thume(in which everyone knew there was nothing of importance whatsoever), the pixies lived in secrecy, shunning the outside world...but Thaile, a girl expecting to grow up to a normal life, a husband and children, has quite another destiny because of the immense magical Faculty she possesses.

I won't spoil any of Duncan's plot twists, and he does pull off some beautiful ones, but I will say that he does give us a look at some of the races he neglected in the first series--the fauns, anthropophagi, mermen, and trolls, and that he keeps one's interest all the way through. Some might be put off the character of Ylo, who is not the most scrupulous, and not always likeable, but Rap and Inos are old friends to whom you have returned--if you liked them in the first book, you'll like them here. Tension builds slowly, but is almost feverish by the fourth book.

This whole series, and its predecessor, are most highly recommended. Better than any other fantasy series I've read, and thinner than most. You won't be disappointed.

%A Duncan, Dave
%T The Cutting Edge
%I Ballantine del Rey
%C New York
%D September 1992
%G ISBN 0-345-38167-X
%P 307 pp.
%S A Handful of Men
%V Book 1
%O Paperback, US$4.99, Can$5.99
%A Duncan, Dave
%T Upland Outlaws
%I Ballantine del Rey
%C New York
%D May 1993
%G ISBN 0-345-38477-6
%P 299 pp.
%S A Handful of Men
%V Book 2
%O Paperback, US$5.99, Can$6.99
%A Duncan, Dave
%T The Stricken Field
%I Ballantine del Rey
%C New York
%D October 1993
%G ISBN 0-345-38874-7
%P 338 pp.
%S A Handful of Men
%V Book 3
%O Paperback, US$5.99, Can$6.99
%A Duncan, Dave
%T The Living God
%I Ballantine del Rey
%C New York
%D April 1994
%G ISBN 0-345-37899-7
%P 385 pp.
%S A Handful of Men
%V Book 4
%O Hardcover

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com