Monday, August 14, 2023

Rob Howell's A Lake Most Deep

Asskickery, mysteries, intrigue and a new culture? Yes, please! Rob Howell rocked it with A Lake Most Deep. It was my first time reading Howell, but it won't be my last. There's so much packed into this one book. It was almost like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the battles from Lord of the Rings. I was enthralled from the second I cracked the cover. And, if one of my predictions didn't come to pass (and no, I'm not saying which one) well, it was Howell's book and I suppose he had a better idea of how to write it than I did. Probably. I mean, he's been published and I haven't. So, by definition, he must be better at this than I am, right? 


Yeah, Edward Aethelredson (may I never have to type his name again because that surname is a PITA to spell right. I had to check three times to make sure I got it right.) is a great guy. Sort of. I mean, he outlived his lord and has been forsworn, but he's struggling to regain his honor and he risks both life and limb several times to keep his word. This is the kind of character I can get behind. He's rough and tough physically, but able to cope with someone talking poorly of him. He can handle himself in a fight, but is willing to accept coaching from others. He can put away the booze and feel the camaraderie, but is smart enough to keep his head in bad situations and not trust to the point of harming himself. He is, in short, both smart and deadly with a sense of right and wrong and a strong set of morals. I like this guy. We could hang out and watch a game together.

Edward is kind of a mix of traditions as well. He descends strongly from European traditions in most ways: When he first starts out, he's basically a knight on horseback. A free lance to be sure, but still a person that could have ridden onto the page directly from Medieval France or England and no one would have batted an eye. But as the story goes further, you realize that he has a relationship with a blade that is closer to that between a samurai and his katana than anything else. He sees it almost as a part of himself, an extension of his soul and I love it. The cultural background given to justify this is awesome as well. It's a big part of, not just the current story, but the backstory as well. It fits and it adds something to the story. 

He builds a set of companions that shifts from time to time as well. I've been told that there are really only two stories: A man goes on a journey, or a new guy comes to town and that they're essentially the same story, only told from a different point of view. While this is the story of Edward A. and he is definitely a man who has gone on a journey to seek a new life, there are plenty of characters in A Lake Most Deep that provide the opposite feeling: He is referred to many times as an outsider. It works here, too, because he is not only that but much of the plot relies on Edward's working through his misunderstandings to figure things out.

And figuring things out is kind of the point of A Lake Most Deep. It is as much a mystery as a work of fantasy.  Edward finds himself caught in the middle of a dispute, trying to figure out who kidnapped people from an inn, and lurching toward a grand ending involving high level leadership in the City of Achrida. The twists and turns to get there are complicated, but he continuously makes progress. This guy just won't stop.

Of course, no fantasy hero is complete without the occasional dust-up and I'm here to tell you that 'Ol Mr. A can hold his own in a fight. He's actually kind of a Jean Claude Van Damme type except that he uses weapons instead of just his fists and feet. Then again, his enemies use weapons too, and it makes no sense to try to block a sword with your hand. You'll lose an arm that way.  Probably your life too, come to think of it. Seriously don't go punchy, punchy against an enemy that can go stabby, stabby. Bad things happen that way.

And for a book with no truly huge battles, no Helm's Deep analogue, the body count in A Lake Most Deep is really high. Battle size seems to be a tool that Howell uses to up the suspense. As the book goes on, stakes get higher and the fights get bigger. This is a good thing. Edward is an A list combatant, but he's not infallible and things get desperate at times. A little heart pounding action is good. 

Magic is scarce in Achrida. Other than some healing magic, we don't see much of it. There is a book talke about that might be magical in nature, but I'm kind of on the fence about that since we don't really see it directly in the story. I have no problem with this. I'm a Song of Ice and Fire fan, and there wasn't a whole lot of magic in the first couple books of that series. I really love what we've actually seen in the books there, too. Is there more magic in the rest of Howell's series? I don't know. I haven't read it. But that brings up an interesting point. 

A Lake Most Deep is clearly marked as Book One of the Firehalls Saga and I am impatiently waiting for book two which, it should be noted, does not appear as a related work on the Amazon page for ALMD. I checked. I was going to snatch the next one. I guess I'll just have to get over myself for a bit. Hopefully not too long, though. I'm kinda the impatient type.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Missing Books

A Lake Most Deep
Rob Howell
New Mythology Press, 2023

A Lake Most Deep is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.

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