Duncan, as in much of his fiction, is treading a narrow line here between light fiction and gritty realism – with torture, rape, slavery, and death, but also exposed thighs and chests and bosoms and lust peeking from behind the curtain. In this book, while the main story is strong, he steps a little too far toward the adolescent (granted, the protagonists are adolescent). It’s not enough to undermine the story, but it does get in the way of the enjoyment a bit. At one point, I found myself thinking of Piers Anthony, who long ago gave up on straddling and jumped well over the line to plant both feet in juvenilia.
Duncan, happily, pulls back in time and, with a few rough spots, gets his story of the brave, tenacious Rap and the brave, clever Inos back on track. There are sad moments and cruel moments, but largely the story is upbeat, even when circumstances are dire. I’d have liked to see Duncan do more with the possibilities for pathos here (e.g., the plight of the faeries who are so closely linked to magic), but respect that that’s not the story he’s telling.
This isn’t the strongest entry in the series, but it’s still a good one, and enjoyable.