I was looking for a fantasy book with a bit of a twist, and thought Jamie Edmundson’s Toric’s Dagger looked like a fun heist novel–something like a team of fast-talking professional thieves out to steal valuable weapons.
And it does start out that way, with a heist going wrong in the first couple chapters, and introducing us to some of the main characters. But after that, it shifts into a story of medieval political intrigue involving nearly every kingdom in the land of Dalryia. Still, it’s quite good, even if it turned out not to be exactly what I was expecting.
The main character is Belwynn, a young, er–warrior? thief?–let’s say adventurer, as other than being a stunningly great singer, her skill set’s a little vague, and mainly seems to be that she’s up for anything. She has a twin, Soren, a wizard of moderate skill, and with whom she shares a psychic bond, allowing them to speak to each other in their minds. (Handy for running scams!) They have been knocking around with a pair of mercenaries, Herin and Clarin, who are also siblings, and all four have just returned to their home kingdom, South Magnia.
After a dagger that is sacred to the adherents of the god Toric is stolen from a church in South Magnia by a group of horse riders, South Magnia’s king calls on Belwynn and Soren, who are his cousins, to track down and return the dagger. They quickly assemble a group of ten for their party, and set off after the riders. As the group follows their quarry, always several hours behind, they discover that Dalryia is on the brink of war, with multiple armies on the move. And it turns out that Toric’s dagger is one of several mythical weapons that the aggressive northern kingdom of Ishari wants to assemble for unknown purposes.
Can Belwynn and Soren and their comrades capture Toric’s dagger? What is its significance, anyway, and why do the Isharis want it? And now that they know of the existence of other, equally sacred weapons, scattered across Dalryia, who’s going to go capture those before the Isharis can get them first?
This was a fun book, fast-paced, and with a well-thought-out political situation that we come in on just as it’s about to spin out of control. The land of Dalryia is nicely scaled–perhaps about the size of England–so that the different kingdoms are really like counties, and a character can ride across one on horseback in a day or two. Armies are appropriately sized for the technology level also, with hundreds or thousands on each side. Edmundson doesn’t get carried away with epic scale, and it all gives a sense of realism to the battles and political intrigues.
I like too that the magic system is powerful, but takes a lot of effort to use, so that Soren is out of commission or even passed out after casting a major spell. That gives magic impact but keeps it from dominating the story. We didn’t learn that much about how exactly magic works in this book–although there are some intriguing hints in the final chapters– but I think we’ll learn more in the next book. I’m looking forward to that!
The book does have a couple weaknesses. One was that there were too many characters in the party to retrieve Toric’s dagger for a reader to easily keep track of, and while each character does turn out to play his or her own important part, it might have helped to trim the count a bit. Why ten? Even Tolkien only put nine in the fellowship of the ring, and he introduced them over the course of half the book. I notice that Edmundson likes to pair his characters–Belwynn and her brother Soren, Herin and his brother Clarin, the priestess Elana and the priest Dirk, etc.–so maybe he needed ten to pair everybody off? He seems aware of this problem, as he does helpfully include a list of characters at the beginning of the book. It’s a nice aid, if an inelegant solution.
Another weakness is the dialogue, which is merely functional. There are some stabs at differentiating a couple characters by the way they speak–Kaved, a vulgar mercenary, most notably–but for the most part, all the characters pretty much have the same terse speaking patterns. This might make sense for the warriors, but what about Soren, the wizard? Shouldn’t he be a real smarty pants? What about Elana and Dirk, the priests–shouldn’t they infuse their sentences with religious metaphors and acclaims to their deities? Kings and priests, rangers and wizards, all come out sounding alike.
Still, these weaknesses aren’t enough to derail the book. I’ve already ordered book two, Bolivar’s Sword, and can recommend Toric’s Dagger to nearly any fantasy reader who’s a fan of political machinations and multi-character storylines.
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