The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker is an intriguing first effort in the fantasy genre (Baker is better known for her sci-fi). The book is a bit hard to classify or pigeon-hole, which is a good thing. If you combine the classic fantasy motif of a mysterious protagonist with a shady past with a dash (or two) of Terry Pratchett, then you’re getting close to what Baker has created with in The Anvil of the World.
Smith is a Child of the Sun running from his past and looking for work in the breadbasket city of Troon. His cousin has hired him as the caravan master for a journey to Salesh by the Sea. Smith anticipates an easy trip across the land, and is disappointed when events do not allow this. It seems that the caravan is full of ‘Smith’s’ – we have Mrs. Smith the gourmet cook, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their three children, some other Smith’s, a runner, a courier, Lord Ermenwyr and his nurse, and a mysterious traveler of the Yendri race. No one is of course who they seem, and are any of them actually named Smith?
Attacks, death, demons, injuries, destroyed cargo, and a crying baby keep things interesting as the caravan journeys to the sea. We even learn who some of our mysterious travelers are along the way.
The tale continues in Salesh as Smith once again changes careers in his quest to avoid the past, and of course, a journey of destiny with the fate of the world at stake.
The Anvil of the World starts off with something of a slow start – I found myself waiting see what’s going on and not particularly caring about the characters. However, don’t despair – sticking with the book is well rewarded. Slowly, Baker’s subtle use of humor and pun sinks in and the characters are masterfully rounded out. The subtle humor becomes not so subtle at times and social commentary begins to bleed from the story, all in clever, humorous ways that I thoroughly enjoyed. A magical duel between mages may well be the best I’ve ever read and brings a whole new understanding of the old saying: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’.
The book is fast paced, a quick read, and overall, well done. The writing can be inconsistent at times, but its witty nature easily overcomes this. Kage Baker is an author whose books I will now be on the lookout for, and recommend you do the same. On my 10 point rating scale where 10 is unsurpassed and 5 is a take-it or leave-it novel, The Anvil of the World rates a solid 7 – a hearty recommendation.