Canadian-born anthropologist Matthew Jobin launches his fiction career with a magic-filled quest in the classic mould. Our hero is young Edmund Bale, the eldest son of tavern owners who wants nothing more than to study magic, preferably under the tutelage of a great wizard. Sadly, Edmund’s family doesn’t understand his bookish ways, at least not until his talents reveal themselves at the most opportune moment.
Every good quest requires sidekicks, and in this case they are Tom, the slave of a cruel peasant landowner, and Katherine, who also serves as the unattainable object of Edmund’s affection. Each character is well drawn and distinct, and equipped with a talent that proves useful in the course of their adventure. Edmund, though small in stature and lousy with a longbow, does indeed have a way with magic. Tom has a largely unexplained affinity for nature and animals (this being the first book in a series, one expects this aspect to be explored more fully in future instalments). Katherine is the only child of John Marshall, a local hero who was one of three men (the others being a knight and a wizard) to return from a battle with the sinister and deadly Nethergrim, a bogeyman figure that reappears every few generations to terrorize the village and steal children. John trains warhorses, a skill – along with swordplay – he has passed along to Katherine.
Jobin does an excellent job creating his imagined world, complete with a believable cast of secondary characters, a familiar-yet-different sense of place and time (vaguely English and Feudal), and references to religion and folklore. There are valiant knights, horrific creatures composed of deadly thorns, and enough action to propel the plot without overwhelming the more subtle themes of alienation and class conflict.
There’s a lot going on in The Nethergrim, and while too many paragraphs are given over at times to describing the scenery, it all comes together. If Jobin can build on the solid groundwork laid here, he’ll be one to watch.