Child of a Mad God is the first in a new series by RA Salvatore, the writer who introduced us to the crow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden. Set in the world of Corona, a world made familiar in the Demon Wars Saga, this book explores lands far from Honce-the-Bear, in a time after said wars. This story spans a decade or more, and follows several main players- Aeolyn, Seonagh, Talmadge, and Tay Aillig, whose lives are shown in a series of ‘snapshots’ (possibly ‘montage’ is the more appropriate word).
Aeolyn is a daughter of the Usgard tribe, an orphan raised first by a nameless elder, and later by her aunt Seonagh. The Usgard are a brutal mountain tribe who can use the stone magic, though it is different from the more refined style of the Abellicans. They raid the tribes living along Loch Beag, at the foot of their mountain, taking supplies and slaves. During one raid, when Aeolyn is but a wee, yet wild, thing, a pregnant woman is taken captive. Her child, born a slave, becomes a companion of sorts for Aeolyn as the years go by.
Seonagh takes over teaching and caring for Aeolyn, a daunting task as the young woman is willful and headstrong, refusing to settle for a woman’s place in the Usgar tribe. Aeolyn wishes to learn the magic of Usgar, and to join the privileged Coven, but she is impetuous and that makes her a danger on many levels. Can Seonagh temper her fire before the men of the tribe decide she isn’t worth the trouble of keeping around?
Tay Aillig we meet as a young, yet experienced, warrior who grows to become Usgar-laoch, leader of the warriors. Tay Aillig has bigger plans in mind. The fierce war leader wishes to become Usgar-triath, a position combining Usgar-laoch and Usgar-forfach. Along his quest for power, Tay Aillig has a plan to rid his people of the deadly demon fossa who walks the earth under the Blood Moon.
Down along the lake, the trader Talmadge grows from stripling to mature, yet gentle-hearted, man. Much of his life we see is shaped by a singular incident along the shores of the loch, when he is forced to take a life. Later, he loses another to the loch, bringing him to a terrible low point. For a time he stays away, and when he ventures back, it is only to become a captive of the Usgar.
Besides these interchanging viewpoints, there are some introspective essays from the viewpoint Aydrian Wyndon, much like Drizzt’s in the Legend of Drizzt series. This is the only time we hear from Aydrian in this book. I imagine he becomes important in later books, and the essays give valuable information. These storythreads converge in a final battle against the demon fossa, a battle that truly brings Aeolyn into her own.
The perspective does shift between characters. At no point did I have trouble following the shifts, but if you dislike that style, be forewarned. While Corona was never my favourite (that would be Faerûn, and Drizzt’s adventures), I do enjoy the magic system of this world, and it was neat to see yet another group that had learned to use the magic of the stones. The anthropologist in me enjoyed learning about the cultures of the Usgar, and the lake tribes. The head-shaping practised by the lake tribes was a fascinating facet. Oh, yes, and I loved that there are snow leopards!
I was on the fence about Aeolyn. I liked her spirit, and she was rebelling against a harsh culture, which is how cultures change and evolve. I just think she could have been a little savvier about it, knowing the consequences of acting out against the norms. I look forward to seeing how she grows over the next books, and changes her tribe.
I liked Tay Aillig. I know I probably shouldn’t, but I couldn’t really see him as a villain when he acted as his culture dictated. He’s another potential culture-changer, albeit likely opposite of how Aeolyn would change it. I’d really like to think he could change himself, and become an ally of Aeolyn. Not bloody likely, I know, but on can hope.
Talmadge I liked too, and hope we see again. He’s a sweet man, with a good heart. It’s through him that we really get to explore the lake tribes, and I’d love to see more of them in general. He’s been through so much and I hope he finds the lasting happiness he deserves.
Recommended if you’re a fan of Salvatore’s works in general, or are a fan of fantasy with interesting magical systems.
***Many thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an egalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
***Reviewed for the Manhattan Book Review as well.