LORD OF SECRETS by Breanna Teintze (BOOK REVIEW)
Lord of Secrets manages to pull off a great adventure, some awesome worldbuilding, and some brilliant character work, all in a lighthearted romp that is exciting and joyous to read. It’s The Mummy of fantasy – and that’s high praise coming from me. This kind of fantasy is so rare: it’s not ‘funny’, per se (not in a Terry Pratchett/Piers Anthony/Terry Brooks sort of way, anyway), but it’s unapologetically fun. It feels like playing Dragon Age or even a D&D game where you’re all a bit drunk and someone fails a roll and accidentally kisses an orc…
The core of the story is a fairly simple series of quests: Gray wants to rescue his grandfather, so he needs a magical gizzit, so he has to get the magical gizzit from the crypt in which it’s hidden, which is filled with puzzles. It’s great to have such a clear focus for the story, but where it gets fun is that so much goes wrong for him along the way that the story builds and builds until poor Gray has rather a lot more on his plate than he was expecting.
Anyway. I loved Gray, our main character, so much. He’s exactly the sort of snarky, charming, fed-up-of-everyone character I love to read about – he’s the kind of character that wishes he was chaotic neutral, but secretly cares too much and ends up doing the right thing against his better instinct. He’s young, but not shiny-faced YA young – but he’s far from being a grizzled old wizard. He’s a brilliant depiction of a smart 26 year old who’s coming to terms with life being a bit less cool than he’d thought. His narration is a hell of a lot of fun to be pulled along with – I fell for his voice within pages. Brix, too, is a fantastically written character. It would have been so easy to have her be a stereotypical sassy female sidekick, but she has her own stuff going on, and though she has some great one-liners, and she and Gray are banterous with each other, she’s got so much more depth than just sass. When they literally run into each other while escaping the scenes of their wholly separate crimes, the adventure really begins.
The magic system is wonderful – it’s complicated in practice, but easy to read about. Magic must be written down in order to work, which introduces an interesting set of restrictions as to when spells can be cast, but in addition to that, magic takes a huge physical toll on the caster. The pain and damage can be transferred to another person, if they’re of a particular magical race, and if you have no morals or aversion to slavery… Gray, luckily, is not a dick, but this does mean he has to bear the cost of his magic himself, which causes a lot of problems given that he already has a permanently injured knee.
On a side note to that, I hugely appreciated the disability rep here – Gray’s physical limits are always in the back of his mind, even when facing down undead horrors (though he often ignores those limits, which is a major but very understandable character flaw!). I loved his frustration with his disability and his determination to never let it hold him back – except when it does. He may not be a great model for how to cope with chronic injury (he’s not exactly a poster boy for good decisions), but it’s amazing to see a disabled hero in fantasy.
I haven’t even talked about my favourite bit yet, and that’s Jaern! I really can’t tell you too much, cause it all gets a bit twisty and spoilery, but once he comes into the story, it thoroughly cemented this book as one of my favourite fantasies ever. He’s just perfect. Like Howl Pendragon if he was a lot more morally dubious and a lot more overtly bi! Once you’ve read the book, please slide into my DMs so we can yell about how much I love Jaern, okay?
There’s so much fun to be had here, honestly. There’s a spooky dungeon crawl through a ruined temple filled with reanimated bone creatures and fiendish puzzles! There’s sarcasm up the wazoo! There’s languid putdowns and crazed zealots and fights where everyone thinks it’s going to be super cool but then they remember they aren’t any good at fighting and it turns out getting punched hurts quite a lot! It’s a rollicking fantasy romp, and I ADORED it. And writing this, I just want to read it again.