Sometimes, you pick out a book despite its cover. While browsing in the fiction collection, I came across Dave Duncan’s fantasy title, Ill Met in the Arena. Despite a singularly unappealing cover, I took it home, as I have been intending to read some more of Duncan’s work ever since I came across his Tales of the King’s Blades series.
Duncan is a master of political fantasy, full of intrigue and plotting with enough action to keep things interesting. This stand-alone title is a tale of revenge, and revenge served cold. In the world of Aureity, the men have physical powers, the ability to port from place to place, as long as they have been there before, and the ability to move objects with their minds. The women, though, have the power to control men’s minds, reading their thoughts at a touch and pacifying them if they become too unruly. The men compete in the arena in feats both physical and mental, seeking both honors and the place at the side of a well-born woman. Quirt of Mundil is a former champion, who has returned to the arena under an assumed name in his quest for vengeance against the nobleman who raped Quirt’s mother, destroying the family.
The slow unraveling of the identity of Quirt’s enemy is combined with well-crafted scenes of psychic combat, as contestants attempt to pass heavy baulks of wood back and forth and fight with javelins. Quirt’s plans for vengeance tie him to a young but powerful competitor, on whose shoulders the resolution of the action ultimately rests. Duncan excels at creating a world where action and magic come together in a believable mix. As I read, there were echoes of Lois Bujold’s Chalion series, as private revenge plays out on a public stage. If only it had a better cover!
Check the WRL catalog for Ill Met in the Arena