The Hunters’ Rede, Book One of The Chronicles of Ealiron, offers an absorbing look into the psyche of a hired assassin with limited but well-disciplined magical powers. Making his way through kingdoms at war and encountering treachery, grief, comradeship and love, he begins to understand that he must move beyond his allegiance to the rules of the Hunter’s Rede which have served him so well for so long.
Sometimes the creation of an entirely new fantasy or alien world, with all its history and complexities, presents problems for the reader struggling to make sense of all this new input. Not so this novel. There is no clumsy, heavy exposition, and the straight chronological narrative, all focusing on the point of view of the main character Lorth, leads you easily through setting up the world in your mind. It would really have strained this narrative to have to undergo flashbacks to other characters’ point of view, other times and places; the straight chronology centered in one character provides a strong backbone for this book. A detailed but not overlong glossary at the end of the book also helps nail this world down.
It’s as if Lorth is visiting various solidly-delineated theater sets upon which the actors emerge. These settings have an emotional resonance that ground you in the narrative. The story itself is fast-moving action; when Lorth muses about the magical realm and his role in it, his ruminations dovetail well with the story, never slowing it down. The book also deals with the problem of magic and what limitations it may or should have. For instance, if a given wizard has too much power and can always win by wrinkling his nose like Samantha in Bewitched, what’s the point of any novel dealing with magic? Wizards and other magicians in this novel definitely have limitations.
The Hunter’s Rede itself is a set of rules or advice for assassins like Lorth; it’s detailed and is brought to bear on Lorth’s consciousness at crucial points, but you don’t have to memorize the rules. They just unfold and make sense at the right time.
Lorth is fascinating in that he doesn’t possess infinite magical power, just enough for his needs as a skilled assassin. He’s a sort of a junior varsity magician who can make mistakes and act impulsively, and finds himself in all sorts of trouble as he flees from his pursuers and must use his excellent hunter’s reflexes to cope. Yet it’s gradually revealed that he has unique and unruly wizard capabilities that he needs to come to terms with, and that he has a major role to play in this world.
The author has a great ability to tap into modes of magical or shamanistic thinking and make them come concretely alive. Various power modes unfolding in Lorth’s mind often strike the reader with uncanny force. A major strength of this novel is the sense-drenched depiction of internal psychic events.
I am much looking forward to the next volume in the series, The Gray Isles.
review by Michael D. Smith