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Ill Met in the Arena    by Dave Duncan order for
Ill Met in the Arena
by Dave Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The aristocracy of Aureity (this world's major continent) have long bred for psychic powers - mental control and mindreading in the women, and teleportation in the brawny men. Men who are strong psychics with the right pedigrees compete in the arena to prove themselves fit to mate with noblewomen. It's generally believed that women's power over men has created a civilized, non-violent society.

However, the hero of Ill Met in the Arena, Mudar of Quoin (once a renowned arena contestant), knows better. Someone he and those close to him think of as the Enemy brutalized and raped his royal mother Hyla, leaving her almost catatonic - and pregnant with him. If that were not enough to blight one life, that same Enemy killed Mudar's beloved, after which he was doomed to be nameless until he brought the killer to justice. Mudar (now calling himself Quirt of Mundil) has spent a third of his life searching in all the wrong places. Along the way, he has found a new love - one whose smile 'dims the suns' and who is about to be forced into marriage against her wishes.

As the story opens, Quirt learns the identity of the man who has both given him life and cast a dark shadow over it - and it turns out that his Enemy has very powerful connections indeed. In the arena, Quirt uses his wits to win against a spoilt, arrogant Baby Dragon, the younger, more powerful Humate, whose 'only crime is to be the spawn of an evil house.' He eventually reveals his history - and the foul deed that began it - to Humate and to the reader. But as Mudar/Quirt works to bring great evil to light and to justice, the Enemy learns of his existence and ruthlessly begins to remove witnesses to his crimes.

Our hero - as well as the reader - wonders who he can trust as the action and violence escalates to a highly satisfying crescendo of a conclusion. As always, Dave Duncan gives his myriad of fantasy fans a highly entertaining romp of a read, set in a unique world, in Ill Met in the Arena.

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