I tend to be far more picky about Fantasy books then I wish to be. If a book fits into certain sub-genres, I'm generally sure to love it - dragons, fantasy mixed with Alternate History, and Urban Fantasy to name a few - but I've been attempting to give what to me is regular fantasy more of a try. So I was extremely excited to see what Eagle En Garde had in store for me.
But I didn't expect to love it as much as I did.
Darin Barclay is an officer in the Eagles, a mercenary company operating in Talaria and surrounding lands. A master swordsman, he is a decent, hardworking man with a strong moral sense and connections to the Elves - even a young half-elven daughter. Because of the travel his work takes him on, he is more use to magic then many fellow countrymen, as long ago a magical barrier was raised around the land and no one can destroy it. People and things with magic in them can't come back in once they cross over or can't come in at all. So elves are rare and few in the country have seen more then a "magician" with simple tricks.
As he travels, Darin's sense of right and wrong (plus his drive to protect people in trouble) leads him into continual contact with the Cleaners, originally one of the many temples - such as to Fighter, etc - but now stirring up the people against all magic, gypsies, "witches" - healers, etc. These are "unclean" and acolytes go around like bullies and attempt to harm them. This is spreading throughout the land and Darin begins to wonder just what is going on.
While all the characters were wonderful and seemed to come alive in the text, easily my favorites were Amba the dwarf, Yagoslav the Elf, and Darin, of course. Amba won my heart with his bookstore; I need it so badly to be a real place! I swear I could smell the scrolls and see the loaded shelves. Yagoslav was an interesting character, more complicated then most Elves I've seen, particularly since he was the wise mage Elf. I really enjoyed his discussions with Darin. And what of the main character? Darin was a complex character who may kill people but also has a deep sense of justice and right or wrong. He was...real, which is extremely important in a fantasy novel. Through his eyes, the fantastical world is introduced to us as normal and understandable. One of my favorite parts was the sword dance he did at a festival, it was described succinctly - not too much but enough for you to be able to picture it perfectly.
But he's not without his flaws: thoughtless at times, quick to anger and actions, and even occasionally too stupid to live.(show spoiler)
The biggest issue he had though was his thoughts and reactions towards a terrible wound. It follows him through a bit of the story and while he doesn't deal with it wisely or healthily often times, it certainly was realistic. Easily one of the best elements though, was Darin's daughter Leatanis, a half-elven girl he learns of and meets during the course of the book. Every moment she's there or thought of were some of the best; she brings the best out of Darin.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and while it covered everything perfectly, I wished it could have been half again as long - simply because I had too much fun! The characters were wonderful but the land, culture, and situations were so solid and real. I wouldn't mind learning more and returning to Talaria.
I received a copy of this book from the author; the opinions are my own.