Touched by the Gods by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Before severing their contact with the human race, the gods "touched" one child to be their Champion. That child born is Malledd, son of a blacksmith. But his homeland, the Domdur empire, has been at peace for so long that everyone, including Malledd, doubt his divine status.
But at the edges of the empire, the descendant of a tribe long conquered by the Domdur discovers ancient magics and, in revenge for his ancestors, leads an undead army towards the Domdur capital.
If the introduction of this book sounds a bit cliche, "Touched by the Gods" (Touched) fits the description squarely. Doubting heroes, constant infighting among the Domdur nobility, revenge-bent magician with undead army. etc., fill the 500+ page paperback. The fact that the story entertains well despite these stereotypes illustrates the author's skill.
Time between major scenes were measured in years, giving the story an epic feel. Watt-Evans grounds the scenes with how the changes affect the characters: Malledd and his family; the antagonist suffering old age despite his magics; and the development of minor characters as Malledd's fellow villagers. This brings one of the major problems with Touched, though: there are a lot of characters and I had difficulty trying to figure out how and where they related to the plot. Compounding the problem were another fantasy cliche: the fantasy name.While Malledd wasn't difficult to remember, many others were.
Because the story is over a long period of time, much of the book deals with the various personalities and machinations of the characters before the introduction of the antagonist and, later, on dealing with him. Watt-Evans doesn't stray far from the established conventions: Malledd keeps doubting he's the Champion; his wife wants him to stay at home; personality conflicts prevent the major forces from realizing there's a Champion; misdirection of who is the traitor; etc. I sometimes felt the characters--while not the dreaded "info dumps"--sole purpose were to illustrate a particular character facet, provide background, or point to an obvious plot point.
There were some surprises, some of them nice. I liked the magic system in Touched. I also liked how Malledd finally learned he was the Champion (which involves a wedding.) And the chapters and their scenes move quickly, progressing the simple plot. None feel like filler.
Overall, I give Touched by the Gods three stars out of five for a pleasant read.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004