Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Kage Baker: The Anvil of the World (2003)

The name of Kage Baker was not unfamiliar to me, as I had read several encomiums produced when she died last year. They were sufficiently positive that I tried reading one of her books, without enjoying it much, and being left feeling somewhat mystified by the praise she had received. I did eventually try again, and found The Anvil of the World truly delightful, one of the funniest fantasy novels I have ever read.

Though perhaps it is not really a novel, as it consists of three episodes which are just about independent of each other, sharing characters but readable without reference to the others. The main character is a retired assassin who has taken the name Smith, a common name shared by several of the others in the The Anvil of the World. In the first  story, he takes a job as master of a caravan passing through dangerous country where travellers are at risk from demon bandits; in the second, he is running an inn in the resort of Salesh-by-the-Sea; and in the third, he is kidnapped by one of the passengers from the caravan, who is also the owner of the inn, who wants Smith to help him rescue his sister.

The humour is built around absurdities, particularly literal minded misunderstandings, and owes debts to L. Sprague de Camp (novels like A Planet Called Krishna and the Harold Shea series) and, to a lesser extent, Terry Pratchett (the Igors, particularly). Despite The Anvil of the World being laugh out loud funny, Baker also manages to be more serious, with major themes in the novel including racial intolerance and the nature of heroism. She manages to be interesting in the latter, though it could be argued that it is the major theme of the whole fantasy genre.

Being the first of a series, it naturally leads on to the next, not called (as the trailer at the end of this edition has it) The Life of the World to Come, but (less pretentiously) The House of the Stag.

An excellent novel which makes me really pleased to have tried Kage Baker's writing again - 8/10.

Edition: Tor, 2004
Review number: 1419

No comments: