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A Plague of Giants
Book 1 of The Seven Kennings
by Kevin Hearne
Del Rey, $28.99, 608pp
Published: October 2017

The author of the popular Iron Druid series is back with a brand-new epic fantasy series.  This one has some familiar tropes:  princes, bards, shapeshifters, people with special powers, and, of course, giants.  But the presentation is what makes this story special. 

This world has special powers for certain people willing to risk their lives.  And the powers seem to be regional; in that the “magical” place each supplicant must go to for a particular power is a fixed location.  So the particular powers ‘belong’ to a specific nation.  We know there are six kennings or powers.  One is the power of healing, the power to control fire, one to control water, the ability to control plant growth and one to shape stone.  The last one is different in that the bards have control over their voice and their appearance; able to take on the appearance of another in order to tell a tale in their voice. The giants control fire and are confined to a barren, frozen land where they trade in metals and glass for other resources; and chafe at the restrictions that keep them from wood.  The ones who control plant growth are a real bunch of tree-huggers…literally.  And they restrict the trade in lumber severely.  The ones who heal and shape stone tend to travel and hire themselves out throughout all the realms; as well as the bards.

The story starts near the end of a great war.  A bard, Fintan, arrives in a city with the proclamation that he intends to tell the story of the great war from all perspectives – including the forthcoming actions that will save them all.  He is welcomed by all for the entertainment value and feted by the local merchants for the increased business he brings.  But the city is full of refugees from all realms and his stories do not always color their countrymen in a favorable light.  After threats against his life, a local historian is assigned by his prince the task of providing some cover to the poet and to write down all his tales for posterity.  Dervan, the historian is also directed to determine if the bard is what he seems to be or if he has ulterior motives; perhaps working as a spy or assassin.

The stories start with the first invasion of an unknown race of giants being repelled by a tidal mariner, one who controls water in all its forms.  Then it progresses to a young hunter who doesn’t want to hunt.  Unfortunately, the time he chooses to tell his family is not a good time and the entire family is trampled in a stampede.  Alone in the wilderness with no supplies and burdened by guilt, he stumbles into a very dangerous group of animals.  Instead of dying horribly, he discovers he now has a new kenning; something long rumored but never confirmed.  This makes him a very hot commodity for a local prince….or a very dangerous aberration who needs to be silenced.  The story then focuses on a familiar race of giants, the Hathrim, – those who control fire – who are forced to flee their homeland in an armada of boats from an erupting volcano.  The survivors land and set up a colony on an unoccupied piece of land.  Unoccupied doesn’t mean unowned and the proximity of fire-wielding giants is a great source of concern for the neighboring realms.  The giants see this as a great opportunity to get a foothold and establish a new homeland; and they are quite willing to fight for it.

As Fintan presents each story – with the appearance of the person telling the story – the listeners began to wonder exactly how it is that he came by such personal information and observation.  Not all the stories portray their leaders in the best light.  And some of the secrets he shares disturbs certain people. And when one of the secrets he shares concerns how Dervan’s wife died, Dervan gets rather more involved with Fintan than he had planned.

Meanwhile the mysterious race of unknown giants is wreaking havoc everywhere and the Hathrim are taking advantage of it to wage their own war.  Hence the book’s title, I’m thinking.

The worldbuilding is very interesting although we don’t get a strong visual of the geography or how the general populace conducts their lives.  But the glimpses we get of those with a kenning are fascinating; including what trials they must undergo to get the kenning.

The plot device of having the story told from the lips of the bard, in the guise of each observer is pretty clever; I liked it a lot.  It allowed the author to hop around to so many different people with different experiences related to the great war, without getting bogged down in their own character.  Yes, the characters are, by necessity, a bit shallow but with so many, it would be impossible to treat them all equally with a lot of detail.  Instead, he focuses on the plot and the different ways each nation handles the crisis.  It was not a fast read or an easy read; but it was a satisfying read.  ~~  Catherine Book

For other books by Kevin Hearne click here

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