I first encountered Will Shetterly through the Liavek shared world series. Those books, if they built on the success of Thieves World, were fun, clever, and well written. I sought out books by many of the Liavek authors, and many of them (e.g., Steven Brust) had a fair degree of success. Eventually I picked up this Will Shetterly book as well, published shortly before the first Liavek book.
If the above plot summary seems a bit formulaic, that’s unfortunately correct. Shetterly can’t seem to make up his mind between a sly parody of fantasy tropes, and an all-in commitment to those same tropes, with a dash of D&D thrown in. The result is novel with light humour that is almost entirely predictable. Every character plays true to expectations. There are funny moments, but they’re not enough to counterbalance the leaden certainty of the plot. The light tone also stands in the way of any real sympathy for the characters; there are a few moments of empathy here and there, but largely it’s an observational read.
All in all, this book is a missed opportunity by a writer who apparently just couldn’t make up his mind what it was about.