Scrounging around for scraps, ready to steal, cut purse strings, and run at any moment, Rat embodies the dog-eat-dog atmosphere clogging the streets of Haven, a city so stratified you have to buy your way into the upper echelons. And while Rat might’ve been somewhere relatively close to those environs, it’s been a long time. He’s fallen from on high, lived in the Low, traveled to Ruin, and now has a place among a crew. He’s a kid without history, without a name, and without any options.
Enter Hyral: Wizard Superior, now convicted of leading his student on an accelerated path to power and into the realms of evil, dark magic, now sent on a mission: find the student Teris Motton. Do it while stripped of all your power, with no tools at your disposal. With his purse stolen on the night he arrives in Haven, is it possible for his quest of punishment to even get moving?
The Wizard and the Rat uses this dichotomous, striated world to bring the reader at once into a world we know: the struggle to survive day to day, to work hard for the crumbs you put in your mouth. The struggle for identity when your power is lost, the struggle for hope when opportunities aren’t just scarce, they actively run away from you. And the author brings you into this familiar-unfamiliar world with the sort of silky smooth grace that’s difficult to find without overdoing it. There’s the right amount of description of places, terrain and people without holding your head underwater and drowning you in it.
Curiously, the author also uses flashbacks at various times to further delve into hidden (but well-constructed) histories and events that are both intriguing and timed well. In particular, the scene with the Dan’ya battle was phenomenal.
Moreover, the book delves into modern day issues of class warfare, haves vs. have-nots, the value of a human being, and human sexuality. These are handled particularly well by the author.
There are a few issue swith the novel however. First and foremost are Hyral’s groping, labored efforts to accomplish his mission. The reader begins to get lost in a confusing maze of days and nights, and here the flashbacks begin to work against us. Hyral frequently takes breaks, heads out to dinner, and goes on long walks, so when it seems that he should doing work to move forward in his investigation, he instead appears to have no sense of urgency to get the job done.
In addition the final twenty percent, the dialogue and narrative become more and more dramatic (and nearly melodramatic) seems to be an effort to infuse a number of themes into the book. It’s like the author embroidered the interactions between the Wizard and Rat too much, so that the stitching doesn’t work well together, and it’s difficult to appreciate the artistry because there’s so much of it. It seems as if the author wishes this portion of the book to mean something, actually about five somethings, all at once.
Still, this is quite a good addition to the swords and sorcery canon, with interesting concepts, a fresh and real landscape of city states steeped in history, culture and personality, and it comes recommended. Be on the lookout for a sequel to Wizard and the Rat as well.