Imagine fantasy and historical fiction are fused into a mystery, like what you’d get with a mash-up of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, anything by Terry Brooks, and Harry Potter. The result, if it’s decently done, would be Ironfoot (Book 1 of the Enchanter General). There’s a touch of historical reality in the social divisions between the native Saxons and the ruling Normans, which is probably accurate given the setting in 1164 England. The brief cameos by Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and a young Richard eventually Lionheart help keep the historical setting from getting lost in a world where magic and the Church exist in uneasy balance. Overall, it’s an enjoyable easy read, in spite of a lot of little irritations, so 3.5 stars rounded up.
The first part of the book where the world and general situation are introduced take place at a school for enchanters, and the hero Durwin, who being Saxon is technically a servant allowed to sit in on classes, who has untapped potential, that is revealed when he fixes a prophesying spell by correcting the grammar of the Saxon language in which it’s written. Apparently this is something no one has thought of doing before (getting spells to work by correcting the grammar and language), and it helps Durwin save the day more than once. It gets a little deus ex machina, and I really wonder that, even though it’s tradition not to meddle with established spells, why has no one considered fixing the words if they know the language before?
Besides being Saxon, Durwin is also somewhat crippled by one leg being longer than the other (the result of a childhood accident) and he has to wear a special boot to be able to walk (hence the nickname ‘Ironfoot’). This seems a little like overkill in terms of Durwin being an underdog hero, but it still works as a part of his character. There’s also the relationship between the school’s problem child student William and Durwin, which starts antagonistic, but eventually they end up as friends after having to work together to solve the murders and stay alive. This strikes me as conventional and a little cliché, but again, it still works as adding some human interest and entertainment.
As it turns out, there end up being two related murders, with a third discovered, by the end, and naturally everything is connected. The mystery itself is interesting since one of the victims ends up unknown then becomes more unlikable as the story progresses, a second victim seems decent but we don’t get to know him much, and the third we never get much info about, so maybe he’s a throwaway whose death was necessary for Durwin to discover in order to figure out who was guilty. The variety in victims keeps the situation from getting too predictable or dull. The problem is that none of this really helps Durwin solve the murders; he does so by casting some spells which enable him to discover evil and force the guilty to come to him. When he does figure things out, neither killer (there’s more than 1) gets punished directly, which is a little unsatisfying.
None of this comes as much of a surprise since we know from the beginning that Durwin survives and eventually becomes the head magician in England. The whole story is told as a flashback, which is easy to forget except that there are little hints occasionally that serve as reminders that Durwin already knows how the story turns out.
In spite of the flaws, I do like the characters and the world, and hopefully there’s a sequel in the not too distant future.