The titles of Dave Duncan’s Children of Chaos and Mother of Lies are unforgivably generic (with covers that are luridly generic), and — following on the nine-book Blades series, which is the most conventional thing Duncan had written to date — a potential reader might be forgiven for wondering if Duncan had tossed aside his characteristic inventiveness and decided to just write generic genre fantasy.
But thankfully, the answer is firmly negative. This is inventive and original, both in setting and plot. The setting is a dodecahedron world, which Duncan treats in an almost SFnal way, exploring the geographical and cultural consequences of a world shaped like a d20. This unique world has a no-less-unique pantheon of gods, each of whom confers mystical benefits on their followers (but demands certain duties in return). Fantasy world-building is Duncan’s specialty, and this is work as good as any he’s done on that front.
Equally impressive is the story itself, which is something of an invasion plot, but handled with subtlety and peopled with particularly realistic characters. It’s a bad cliche of fantasy novels that when one protagonist meets up with another, they’re going to team up and work together toward the same ends, so it’s particularly noteworthy that when Duncan’s protagonists get together, they actually have different goals, and they pursue their individual goals in believable human ways, even as they sort of unite against a common foe.
I’m something of a Duncan fanboy, and have been since I first picked up Magic Casement way back in junior high. He writes the sort of fantasy adventure that I deeply enjoy, but with enough originality and competence to make his books a non-guilty pleasure, and that’s exactly what he’s done here. Good stuff, and highly recommended (along with the rest of Duncan’s canon) to anyone who enjoys heroic fantasy.