This series was my introduction to Dave Duncan, and I still think it’s one of the best things he wrote, along with its sequel series. Re-reading it (again) now, it’s just as I recalled it – light (but moving), entertaining YA fantasy. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and there’s not a lot of grey area (though more comes in in later books). It is a bit heavy on the traditional gender roles, but it does so (I think) knowingly, and while Inos is a princess, she’s not helplessly waiting to be rescued, and while Rap is the strong commoner, he’s not always right, or always doing the rescuing. They’re genuine (if young and not overly complex) people.
One of the things that intrigued me about the series when I first read it is Duncan’s treatment of race. There are imps, jotnar, goblins, fauns, etc., but it’s quite clear that they’re just varieties of human with different phenotypes and customs, with differences among individuals of a race. I don’t recall seeing this approach before these books.
On this recent reading, I did find some quibbles – areas where I think some more editing or resequencing would have helped – but overall, I think the book holds up very well, and I’d recommend it to fantasy readers young and old who want some time away from grimdark stories. I read this book at the same time as Aspects, a much more mature and mannered fantasy, beautifully written, with complex and subtle characters. I enjoyed that, but this was the book I was always more eager to pick up. It may not be as sophisticated, but on the whole, it’s a better book.