The Anvil of the World: Uneven, funny, promising

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Kage Baker The Anvil of the WorldThe Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

The first thing that should be noted about Kage Baker’s The Anvil of the World is that though it focuses on a very small group of characters and one main character throughout and follows them chronologically, this isn’t really a novel. Unless it’s one with some major transition problems. Rather, it’s three novellas with some large gaps of time between the three different adventures. Like any collection of stories, then, The Anvil of the World tends to be a bit uneven.

The first story, which has the unenviable task of filling in the backstory—who are these people, why are they behaving as they do, what world is this and how does it function, tends to be the slowest-moving one and the weakest, though it isn’t without its strong points. It’s funny in places, suspenseful in others, and mostly holds your attention. If you find it lagging a bit, as I did, continue on, because both the pace and the writing pick up in the rest of the book, as does the humor, though it’s already pretty evident from story one. Some reviewers compare the humor to Pratchett. Personally, those works never did much for me. I found these more along the lines of the Robert Asprin Myth series, which I found more enjoyable. While the humor is uneven, the not-so-funny parts are outweighed by the laugh-out-loud/read aloud to your neighbor parts.

The main character is well-drawn, with a mysterious past, a nicely-honed sort of taciturn narration and wonderful reactions. The other major character, a semi-demon, also grows on you, though his dialogue is at times a bit overdone (annoyingly so when it’s meant to depict his childishness). The rest of the small group range in quality of characterization, with the matronly chef the strongest and sharpest, while others are a bit clichéd or too sketchily drawn. The world itself is a bit sketchy in the larger details, but where Baker shines anyway is in the small stuff: sharply humorous details with regard to clothing or festivals or food. It’s easy to forgive the somewhat vague worldview with so much richness in the smaller details.

As mentioned, the first story, which follows the group as they form (for the first time) a caravan, has a lot of necessary exposition which tends to slow it down a bit. It still manages, however, to get in some excitement (various attacks on the caravan and other more personal ones) and suspense (what’s causing the attacks, who among the caravan is the bad guy). The second story, more of a murder mystery, has a much better pace and consistent tone to it and adds to our understanding and liking of the characters (though the semi-demon’s brother, even more childish, can be even more annoying in places). The third story maintains the quick pace and strong wit, but its attempt to deepen/broaden the tone meets with mixed success. The weakest part is the environmental analogy which would have worked fine had it not been so overdone in terms of frequency and obviousness.

Overall, though mixed, the book was a fast and enjoyable read, with the funniest parts truly laugh-out-loud funny, making it quite easy to forgive the not-so-funny parts or the weaker written areas. There is clearly room for a sequel, one that I’d certainly pick up without any qualms.

The Anvil of the World — (2003) Publisher:  The Anvil of the World is [Kage Baker’s] first fantasy novel, a journey across a fantastic landscape filled with bizarre creatures, human and otherwise. It is the tale of Smith, of the large extended family of Smiths, of the Children of the Sun. They are a race given to blood feuds, and Smith was formerly an extremely successful assassin. Now he has wearied of his work and is trying to retire in another country, to live an honest life in obscurity in spite of all those who have sworn to kill him. His problems begin when he agrees to be the master of a caravan from the inland city of Troon to the seaside city of Salesh. The caravan is dogged with murder, magic, and the brooding image of the Master of the Mountain, a powerful demon, looking down from his mountain kingdom upon the greenlands and the travelers passing below. In Salesh, Smith becomes an innkeeper, but on the journey he befriended theyoung Lord Ermenwyr, a decadent demonic half-breed. Each time Ermenwyr turns up, he brings new trouble with him.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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