Patricia Briggs,
The Hob's Bargain
(Ace, 2001)

For years, magic has been bound under a spell cast by the bloodmages whose magical abilities have been warped by the deaths that feed their power. Either a person who shows magical talent is taken to be trained as a bloodmage or else the talent is a death sentence for the individual and a taint on the family. Thus, Aren has kept her talent for sight as hidden as possible.

Then raiders come to Aren's valley, destroying Aren's family among countless others. Only Aren is spared, hidden in the root cellar, and it is while she is there that she feels the magic break away from the spell that previously bound it. Her sight blossoms, opening her senses to a nearly unbearable clarity.

With the return of the magic come new dangers in addition to the raiders who still occupy the valley. The wild magical creatures, newly awakened, are not all benign, and they begin to make inroads on the villagers. Although many distrust Aren -- and many want to kill her -- they also acknowledge that she just might the only one who can help them.

For on the mountain that guards the valley lives a hob, a creature with mostly human attributes and enormous power. He agrees to help rid the valley of the raiders and control the wildlings for a price -- one only Aren can pay.

Briggs has a good ear for dialogue and pace and a marked talent for drawing complex characterizations, from Wandel, the impeccably stylish bard who has more to him than appears on the surface, to Kith, a childhood friend of Aren's who now leads a tortured life after serving as a bloodmage's berserker to both Aren and Caefawn, the hob. Aren and Caefawn conduct a dainty and elegant dance around each other, wary and shy at the same time.

Aren narrates the tale in first person, and the point of view works well, allowing the reader to feel everything she does. Aren has a well-developed sense of humor, which enables her to comment dryly on the events around her, and Caefawn shares that gift of humor. Finally, this is a love story on many levels, all of which are satisfyingly resolved.

If you're looking to while away some time with a good story full of magic and wonder, you might find it worthwhile to accept The Hob's Bargain.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001

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