The last one of my 1st in the series challenge! Huray! This is the first in a duology of books. I already have the second book.

Stephen is a young orphan boy who has joined a gang of thieves so that he can survive. One night he’s so hungry that he tries to steal from a Lord of the land: Lord Elseth. However, the attempt fails and Lord Elseth sends two of his hounds to chase after Stephen. The boy is terrified and is caught. Lord Elseth carries him away. Stephen thinks that something terrible is going to happen to him.

Instead, he’s clothed and fed. He meets Lord Elseth’s son Gilliam and it is dislike at first sight. Later he finds out that the Lord wants him to become Gilliam’s Huntbrother. Stephen doesn’t want to lose the better life he’s gained and when he has to swear the oath, at the tender age of five, he lies. However, later he grows to understand his role and life-to-be as the brother of a Hunter.

Through the years, Gilliam and Stephen learn to trust each other and even love each other like brothers. They are taught together even though Stephen is the scholarly of them while Gilliam thinks of nothing more than the hounds and the hunt. However, the servants of the dark god are making their plans and the two young men are going play a big role in them even though the boys don’t know that yet. The boys seem to have even a couple of allies: the seer Evayne e’Nolan who travels through time and the former assassin Kallindros.

In this world the Hunters are the Hunter God’s chosen ones. The men receive strength, speed, endurance, and a hunting trance during which they have a mental bond with their own pack of hounds. They also get a Huntbrother who is a normal human male except that a Huntbrother and his Hunter have a mental bond; they can see through each other’s eyes and feel what the other feels. Huntbrother’s job is to ground the Hunter who might become inhuman without the brother’s influence. Hunters are always noble males and Huntbrothers are common males.

The Hunters and Huntbrothers have also a grimmer duty: once a year they must gather for the Sacred Hunt during which one of the Hunters or Huntbrothers must die in order to satisfy the bloodthirsty Hunter God. This is the only way to keep the balance of power between the humans and the Hunter God. This is the fate that Stephen is terrified of and he’s convinced that he’s going to die during his first Sacred Hunt (at the tender age of 15).

My main problem with this book is the same as with many, many (fantasy) books; males are the cool people who do all the cool stuff, and women are the uncool people who will have to do all the uncool stuff men are too cool to do. I don’t want to be one of the uncool people. 😦 Here the difference is even more pronounced because only men can be born to be hunters (the cool people) and women are completely excluded from ever being as cool.

While it’s the job of the Hunters to keep the people fed and to risk death during the Sacred Hunt, their women are the ones who do most, if not all, of the ruling. The Ladies sit in judgment of grievances and keep the noble households running. This might be considered cool except that most of the women are described as airheads who think mostly about their clothing. Also, the ruling part is never shown in the story.

Evayne is one of the few female characters and one might think of her as cool. Alas, she’s the complete opposite of the Hunters. The Hunters’ power is control. They must be in control of their own instincts and their pack of hunting dogs. Evayne is not in control of her powers; she has no control over where she travels in the past or future. She’s often frustrated at how she’s lead to places she doesn’t want to go. When she comes back to the world after walking the future paths, she’s disoriented and doesn’t know where she is. Also, she can’t tell other people what she knows. All this makes her seem quite weak compared to the Hunters.

I quite enjoyed Kallandros. He’s a former assassin and current bard. The assassins are a close-knit brotherhood (again, the cool assassins are all male…) and he had to betray them in order to get out. He’s tormented by his decision and afraid that one day he must confront his assassin brothers in battle. At the same time, he controls his emotions very tightly except when he sings. Frankly, I found him to be far more interesting than the other characters.

This is very much a growing up story. At the start of the book Stephen and Gilliam are five and at the end in their twenties. They have to overcome their fears and their first dislike of each other. In the end, they come to love each other like brothers. Or perhaps more? When one of them has a crush on a woman, the other is clearly jealous. I’m rather surprised if none of the “brothers” turn out to be lovers.

I liked the book enough to read the second part of the duology.