“Running is an act of cowardice. Not that cowardice is necessarily bad. As my aunt used to say, “Moderation in all things.””

Part of the 1st in a series challenge.

I was recommended to try out Briggs’ Moon Called urban fantasy. Instead I decided to try out one of her fantasy series. This is a first in a duology which is already quite different. Also, this can be read as a stand alone. The characters are also somewhat unusual even though the setting itself is fairly average.

Wardwick is the heir of Hurog, the keep and the lands around it. Hurog has a proud history but has impoverished in the recent times. When dragons and dwarfs were roaming the countryside, Hurog was a major trading place between humans and dwarfs. But today both dwarfs and dragons have left. However, the people of Hurog are still proud and fierce folk and very loyal to their lord.

Hurog is also a part of a larger alliance called the Five Kingdoms which is ruled by a High King. The current High King is rather a self-serving bastard. Many of the people seem to have magical talent and being a mage or a wizard is a legimate profession no matter is the mage is a king’s advisor or a mercenary. However, the powers of the mages vary wildly.

Good: quirky secondary characters, a twist with dwarfs
Not-so-good: quite generic setting

The main character is Wardwick who is a big and strong young man. When he was young, his vicious father beat him often and one time he beat the boy so much that Ward couldn’t speak well after that. The beating also diminished Ward’s magical talents so that now he can only use a little bit of finding magic. Ward was terrified of his father and decided to pretend that he was mentally slow. This worked very well, because now everyone thinks that Ward is mentally challenged. Ward is very protective of his siblings: his sister Ciarra (whom Ward calls Brat) is mute and looks very young for her age and Ward’s younger brother Tosten who ran away a few years ago. However, Ward knew about Tosten’s plans and helped him so that Tosten could be safe. Ward has also gotten a very good education in arms courtesy of Hurog’s excellent arms master Stala who is also Ward’s aunt.

At the start of the book, Ciarra has run to the caves underneath Hurog Keep and Ward follows her. They meet in a huge cave where they find the bones of a dragon and the chains that the dragon has been kept in. This is a huge revelation to Ward because Hurog was supposed to be on a very good terms with dragons. Also, a boy appears and tells Ward that Ward’s father is dying. The boy is Oreg, a former mortal boy who was bound into Hurog to be the lord’s slave. Oreg is sort of the manifestation of the Keep and knows everything that is going on there and can teleport instantly inside it. Most of the former lords have not treated Oreg well but Ward’s sadistic father has been very bad.

Because Ward is yet too young to rule his uncle, Duraugh, is named the keeper of the keep. So even though Ward is nominally the lord, or Hurogmeten, his uncle is the real ruler for a few years. Ward knows that he could have a fight in his hands against Duraugh for the rulership of Hurog which is made worse by that fact that everyone thinks Ward is an idiot.

Soon things take a turn to the worse. The High King’s favorite, Garranon, and his brother come to look for a run away slave from the caves beneath the Keep. However, Hurog has traditionally been a sanctuary for slaves because by old laws, there are no slaves in Hurog. Of course, many of the old lords had only held up that tradition when is suited them. However, Ward is stubborn and refuses to hand over the slave.

Garranon and his brother have another goal in mind, though. They are in Hurog to convince uncle Duraugh to sign Ward into a mental institution and to become the permanent lord of Hurog. Duraugh agrees reluctantly to take over the impoverished keep. However, with the help of Oreg’s magical power, Ward flees together with his sister, the run-away slave and a few men loyal to Ward. Quickly, Ward puts together an ambitious plan: in order to get Hurog back he must become a war hero. So, the small group heads into south where it is rumored that a war will start.

Even though the majority of the chapters focus on Ward (in first person) there are a few chapters that deal with court intrigue and have several third person point-of-view characters. I felt that this worked well. It was necessary for the plot but also showed a larger world around Ward and gave depth to other characters, too

Ward himself is a somewhat quirky character: he has pretended to be stupid so long that doing so is his default mode even when he wants to appear smart. Otherwise he’s pretty average: strong, good swordsman, has a quiet sense of humor, loyal, brave etc. Although he also confesses that he likes killing people in battle and that scares him.

The secondary characters are even more quirky. Ciarra is a quick witted, mute girl who uses a simple sign language that only a few can read. Axiel was taken prisoner in a war and became Ward’s father’s body servant. When he’s drunk, he claims that he’s the son of a dwarven king. And tortured Oreg. He was born a bastard and the only use his sire had for him was to bind him to the keep. The former slave turns out to be a mage.

I rather liked the cast of characters. The plot wasn’t a typical epic fantasy although it did have a lot of fight scenes. The setting was pretty average. Human characters and a Middle Age –feel. However, this time it’s the dwarfs who have disappeared instead of the elves. There also a nice twist near the end.

Characters: 7, 5 (the secondary characters are more quirky than Ward), Setting: 6, Plot: 7
Overall: 7