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Speak to the Devil    by Dave Duncan order for
Speak to the Devil
by Dave Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dave Duncan can always be counted on for an entertaining romp of a fantasy adventure and Speak to the Devil opens a new series that delivers just that, set in the Kingdom of Jorgary.

The Magnus family (headed by Ottokar) has long produced Speakers. They hear Voices that advise them on how to peform magical acts - though at a cost which depends on their level of ability. The clergy calls what they do Satanism, though Church officials do not hesitate to secretly use Speakers, as do high officials like the king's chief minister Cardinal Zdenek, dubbed the Scarlet Spider. Ottokar's younger brother Marek was taken by the Church as a Speaker. Another sibling, Sir Vladislav, is a captive in Bavaria, his release depending on his impoverished family's ability to raise his ransom.

Attempting to make an impression and so gain advancement, Anton Magnus (a recent recruit to the royal Jorgarian hussars, who has brought his younger brother Wulfgang to the capital) performs a reckless act that bets his life on the use of magic that Wulf had previously avoided. After this performance, Cardinal Zdenek appoints Anton Count of Cardice and lord of the marches, and sends the brothers to Castle Gallant, whose location is key to the defense of Jorgary's northern border, which the Wends are massing to invade. Zdenek also orders Anton to wed Madlenka Bukovany, hellion daughter of the previous Count.

Wulf very reluctantly applies magic to get to Castle Gallant quickly and later to save Anton's life after another reckless act, accelerating his own magical development. He also falls in love with Madlenka (it's reciprocated) who is to marry Anton. Then the Church tries to force Marek to betray his brothers, Wulf seeks aid from Ottokar, they ransom Vladislav, and all the Magnus brothers stir the pot, toasting Omnia audere! This first episode ends on a cliffhanger with the Church hunting Wulf, pestilence in the castle town, and an army pitching camp down the road. I'm looking forward to the shenanigans that are sure to follow.

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