The Wizard Lord (The Annals Of The Chosen volume 1) by Lawrence Watt-Evans (book review).

February 13, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘The Wizard Lord: Volume One’ of ‘The Annals Of The Chosen’ is an epic fantasy by Lawrence Watt-Evans who does a lot of this sort of thing. So he’s good at it. In the crowded fantasy market, you need a well-realised secondary world and this book has it or at least a secondary country, so far, because Barokan, bounded by the eastern cliffs on one side and the western isles on the other, is not the whole world.

Spellchecker wants to change Barokan to ‘broken’, which is probably a hint as to the meaning of the name.

Our young hero is Breaker (another hint?), who doesn’t know much about the world or even the land he lives in outside of his small village, Mad Oak. As the story begins, he’s downing ale and celebrating the barley harvest with the rest of the village. Three strangers arrive, the Swordsman and two wizards. The Swordsman wants to retire and is looking for someone to replace him. Breaker decides to go for the job and become the best swordsman in the world.

The Swordsman is one of the Chosen, along with the Archer, the Seer, the Beauty, the Leader, the Thief, the Scholar and the Speaker. Barokan is ruled by a Wizard Lord, chosen from among the wizards in the Council of Immortals. His job is to control the weather, punish outlaws and kill any rogue wizards who cause trouble.

Once upon a time, seven hundred years before, the land was plagued by wizards battling each other all the time and they themselves set up the new system. The Wizard Lord is gifted with half of all the magic in the land, enough to defeat any other wizard. As a check against him, there are the Chosen, each with a particular style of magic. If the Wizard Lord turns bad then the Chosen must either make him resign or kill him, which isn’t easy. Wizard Lords have turned bad before and some of the Chosen have died fighting.

Even so, it’s at least a century since one went bad and the current one has reigned for five years in perfect harmony with everyone. As far as Breaker can see, being the Swordsman is a doddle. He simply has to learn swordplay from the old one and then beat him once in combat, a task the old man will make easy for him. Then Breaker will get the magic talisman that makes him the best. He can roam around Barokan, see other villages and lots of girls and have a good time being a celebrity.

Of course, there’s a possibility the Wizard Lord could go bad but it seems very unlikely. It’s like those old British army adverts where they showed chaps skiing in Norway and riding around in tanks. Everyone knew we might have a war one day but it seemed a remote possibility back then.

Breaker becomes the Swordsman and leaves his village to go and meet the Wizard Lord in the hills where he resides, just to say hello. On the way there, he can learn about the rest of the country. It turns out that other villages have different ways of doing things. Part of the background geography are ler, spirits of land, water, air, plants, animals and so on. Everything has ler and some are powerful. Breaker’s home village gets its name from the oak tree near it in which the ler has gone mad so it attacks people who go near it.

Villagers make deals with the ler of their area and live in harmony with them but between villages are wild ler so you need a guide to go from place to place. Each route has its own guide who has bargained with the wild ler to allow passage. Breaker heads off to meet the Wizard Lord but meets the Seer, the Scholar and the Arrow on the way. Bad news. The Wizard Lord has done something evil. The adventure begins.

The Wizard Lord is a remote figure in his distant tower but can observe the world through the eyes of animals and insects and even control those same creatures. He uses some animals to speak to the Chosen and explain his point of view. He can’t do this for too long as animal jaws were not made for talking. His Lordship sounds like a very reasonable fellow if you can bring yourself to ignore his one misdeed. Breaker can’t.

Breaker is an engaging young man with a strong sense of honour and duty. He hadn’t expected or wanted to fight anyone for real but will if he must. The other Chosen are a variety of interesting characters, often flawed. As they live in different villages, gathering them together takes up most of the book. In Barokan, there are no horses and you have to walk everywhere or go slowly in a cart pulled by oxen but that’s usually for goods. The story proceeds at walking pace until near the end but I didn’t mind that at all. Fantasy doesn’t have to be fast and quests take time. There’s a whole strange land to explore, too.

‘The Wizard Lord’ is written in easy, readable prose that passes the time smoothly and pleasantly. The characters are real people and there are some humorous moments. The setting is well-described and the adventure concludes satisfactorily with some unexpected developments. The book was published in 2006 but the issue of checks and balances on one mad individual given far too much power by a silly system of government is relevant today. It provided several hours of low-key entertainment and I look forward to reading the sequel and the one after that. It’s only a trilogy which is downright scanty by modern fantasy standards. Worth a look.

Eamonn Murphy

February 2021

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2006. 335 page hardback. Price: $26.95 (US), $36.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31026-0)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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