Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Wizard Lord (Tor, 2006)

Breaker wants something more from his life than growing barley. If he stays in his village, that is going to be his fate, so when the Swordsman comes looking for a successor, Breaker volunteers. The Swordsman is one of the Chosen, those who protect the realms against the possibility of the Wizard Lord going bad. It has happened, several times: the Wizard Lord is selected by the Wizard's Council to govern the realms, providing weather good for crops, controlling the wild ler, and dealing with any wizards that go rogue. The Wizard Lord keeps the balance in the world, but sometimes that much power is too much, and so the Chosen.

When Breaker's training is complete, he is invested with the magical enhancements that make him the best swordsman in the world, and is ready to begin his role. He decides to go exploring, perhaps to meet some of the other Chosen (the Leader, Seer, Beauty, Thief, Scholar, Archer, and Speaker); as it turns out, Breaker will be called on to perform his duty long before anyone expected it.

The Wizard Lord is a group quest, in the vein of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Tepper's The Revenants or any number of other stories in a tradition that goes all the way back to the Argonauts and maybe farther. And, as might be expected, the relationships among the group are as important as the quest itself. Watt-Evans has given us some delightful twists on this -- the Thief denies that she is a thief, no one really trusts the Leader, the Beauty doesn't want to deal with anyone, especially anyone male -- but in spite of it all, the quest goes on.

It's also a travelogue, as Breaker, along with the Seer and the Scholar, travel the various towns, cities and realms in search of the other Chosen and the Wizard Lord. Watt-Evans plays with the variations in culture that grow out of the varying attitudes of the ler, which are one of the most interesting parts of Watt-Evans' universe. These are the spirits who control the world and who treat humans at best as guests, and at worst don't tolerate them at all. The local ler, the spirits of the various villages and settled areas, are controlled (or cajoled) by priests; the wizards deal with the wild ler, those that inhabit unsettled places and control the elements.

Although self-contained, The Wizard Lord is the first in the series The Annals of the Chosen. Breaker's doubts about the quest and the system itself provide an undercurrent the point toward the possibility of some absorbing adventures. This volume is entertaining enough that I'm looking forward to the next book.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Robert Tilendis EarthLink Revolves Around You.