Ill Met in the Arena
by Dave Duncan
Cover Artist: E.M. Gist
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765316875
Date: 19 August 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
One and done, what an interesting concept in modern fantasy. This seems to be a one-off book, a true rarity in current fantasy writing. By the end of the book, plots are wrapped up and the reader doesn't have to wait for books 2-7 to know how it all works out.
The power of the mind is alive and well in Aureity. Noble men and woman have been bred to enhance their skills. Men are skilled in telekinesis and teleportation while women are skilled in empathy, mind control, telepathy, and illusion projection. Since women are able to know thoughts and truth, they rule the world. When a man gets to far out of control a woman is expected to adjust him to acceptable levels.
Each skill set is important and is beneficial to society. Men with ability, compete in arenas in order to prove their skills. As they win and perform well, offers are made for their services as arms men, porters, and even marriage contracts. Of course everything isn't perfect, if it was it would be a pretty dull story.
A mysterious man, known only as Quirt, enters a low level tournament and beats a high ranking noble of impeccable bloodlines. People notice, but not all of the notice is favorable. When Quirt beats the same youth again, their lives become intertwined. The youth, Humate, begins to discover things about the man and his future that he may have preferred not to know. By the end of their adventures, both of their worlds will be dramatically different.
Two thumbs and a stack of timbers up for this fun novel. It remains light hearted and wistful even as trouble begins to plague Quirt. There isn't a brooding main character that takes himself or life too seriously. The love story is in the periphery and doesn't disrupt the flow of action as the past and present are woven into a masterful tapestry.
Nothing in this tale is completely impossible if you assume that people are capable of telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. The three abilities may be possible or not, but if you can accept them, you will enjoy this story of redemption.
As I read this story, I couldn't help but liken it to the original Magic the Gathering novel Arena by William R. Forstchen. The arena and the story of a mysterious stranger that shakes the foundation of the world are very similar. How things play out is very different, but entertaining nonetheless.