A legend is born in Thomas Cale, the teenage hero in this first instalment of Paul Hoffman's fantasy adventure. Set in an alternative medieval Europe of relentless injustice and prolific violence, Cale is raised among the Redeemers, zealots bent on pursuing their own unholy agenda. By dint of an accident, Cale can anticipate blows and is therefore able to subvert them. By the age of 14, he is an accomplished assassin and redoubtable strategist in military matters. He is an attractive boy to boot, his patchwork of scars a tribute to the thrashings he has overcome. Pity and devotion stir the hearts of the few women who cross Cale's path: dove and swan-like images of feminine charm.
Here lurks the shadow of fantasy cliché and, while Hoffman's characterisations are generally strong, it is this temptation to cling to generic formula that prevents the book from being truly ground-breaking. It will be interesting to see how the story progresses into the sequel and beyond, and whether Hoffman and his publishers have the courage to lead the plot in surprising new directions.
That said, the shrugging and socially witless Cale (a teenager, after all) is a hero impossible to dislike, and the book is a festival of thrills, complete with all the twists one would expect from a capable storyteller.