The King's Man by Rowena Cory Daniells (REVIEW)

If you're already a fan of the Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin, odds are you were left hanging after the end of the third book, and are anxiously looking forward to the release of Kingbreaker in late 2013. The King's Man doesn't off up any developments or revelations to make that wait any easier, but it does tell an interesting side-story of a character we all assumed lost . . . and whom, I suspect, may come to play an important role in the story yet to come.

In her e-book only novella, Rowena Cory Daniells rewinds things a bit to the fall of Lord Dovecote's castle, casts new light on Garzik's failed efforts to light the warning beacon, and then carries his tale forward. Captured, enslaved, and stripped of his very identity, the young man is carried far from everything he's ever known, and everyone he's ever loved. His journey is a dark one, in which he suffers almost as much physical torment as he does emotional anguish. With no way of knowing what events have transpired back home, or just how futile his efforts to light the warning beacon really were, he shoulders the blame for failing an entire kingdom.

Given his role as a secondary character, and the fact that his fate was never really a burning question for me, I wasn't sure whether Garzik could carry a tale on his own. Young, immature, and prone to emotional outbursts, he was largely defined by his place within the dynamic of Byren, Orrade, Fyn, and Piro. To take him out of that dynamic was certainly a risk, but it allows Daniells the opportunity to transform him into a much more mature, respectable, and even admirable protagonist. It takes a while for him to find his feet, but once he starts taking control of his situation, the story really takes off.

Along the way, we get our first real look at the Utlanders. Having been portrayed as little more than a barbarian scourge, it's interesting to learn who they really are and how their society operates. While they expose Garzik to abuses that will leave even the most jaded reader cringing, we come to see them not as capriciously cruel, but as survivors of their environment. Watching Garzik struggle to adjust to such conditions, and to find a place in such a hostile environment, is really quite fascinating.

By the end of the tale, much of what we came into the story believing has been turned on its head, and Garzik is left to ponder a betrayal of a very different sort. Showing Daniells' trademark flair for efficient, engaging, well-paced fantasy, The King's Man is a quick and compelling read, offering up just enough of a taste to make us truly hungry for Kingbreaker.