I'm a great fan of Kage Baker's Company novels, but have been less impressed with her fantasy. Nevertheless (in search of a cheapish item to round up an Amazon order to £15, thus entitling myself to free delivery!) I decided to give this a try.
Baker's pacing is admirable, and she has a deft comic touch. One of the quoted reviews compares this novel to Pratchett (no) and calls it 'European' in flavour: despite my reservations about the value of this literary term, I can see what they mean. It's less in-your-face than a lot of humorous fantasy -- wry rather than ROFL.
The Anvil of the World reads a little like a set of connected short stories. (Which, after brief investigation, I find that it is: at least the first part, 'The Caravan from Troon', appeared in Asimov's, though I can't identify the other parts of the novel in story titles.) The novel opens with Smith -- ex-assassin looking for a quiet life -- becoming the master of a trade caravan from Troon to Salesh-by-the-sea, a trip involving a gross of glass butterflies, a screaming baby and several other characters who share his (assumed) surname. (Describing the story this way reminds me of the practice of commissioning a magazine cover, then requiring an author to write a story that fits the picture. Do they still do that?) Everyone is suitably heroic, though this isn't heroic fantasy and the violence is incidental. And no one is what they seem.
The second part of the novel is a murder mystery of sorts, with many of the same characters. (I am especially fond of Lord Ermenwyr, the decadent, drug-addicted, hypochondriac teenaged son of a demon and a saint, and his demonic nursemaid Balnshik.) There is romance, sex and intrigue, though one can't help but feel that the resolution of the murder is something of a cop-out.
In the final third of the novel, Smith (or whatever his real name is) takes centre stage. This part of the tale is most definitely epic fantasy, but it never loses sight of the individuals at its heart. There's an ecological dimension to the story, and some nice metaphors about gardening. And it has a happy, hopeful, new-beginning finale.
This was the ideal book to read during a busy week -- the plot's not so detailed that one loses track, and the overall tone is immensely cheerful. Light reading, but good writing.
reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place