Well of Darkness by Margaret Weis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This story is apparently based on a role-playing game, but since I am not into RPGs, I've never heard of it. I have, however, read many of Weis & Hickman's books, and generally enjoy them. This was no exception.
I will warn readers that this is a very dark story. It begins with the choosing of nine year old Gareth to be the whipping boy for Prince Dagnarus (the authors will forgive me, please, for wanting to read that as Prince "Dagnabit" every time! I do have an odd sense of humor.) The whipping boy soon falls under the control of the charming, spoiled and selfish Prince. When Gareth shows an adept's talent for magic, especially the forbidden Void magic, the prince sets out to use his whipping boy to wrest the kingdom from his older brother, the Crown Prince.
The story uses the four familiar races in fantasy: human, elf, dwarf and ork. But all three are given a twist. The elves have a very complex political and social system, dwarves are master horsemen and orks sail the sea and are fishermen. It makes for interesting reading, and puts enough spin on each race that they don't fall into stereotype.
The main draw to this book is the world building, something these authors do excel at. Each race is distinct, with its own politics, religion and social structure. Where they come together, the overlapping differences and divisions make up the background for the main story. The setting is confined and we don't see a lot of the other races' homelands, but the human world (where most of the story takes place) is well-drawn and detailed.
There is little to relieve the dark tone of the book: Gareth's parents care more for their position in court than for their son, Dagnarus is vain and bent on defeating his brother and becoming King, Gareth is torn and guilt-ridden, unable through most of the story to face up to Dagnarus. It could be a bit off-putting to some readers because of the tone. I found it fascinating.
I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy at some point.
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