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Farlander: The Heart of the World    by Col Buchanan order for
by Col Buchanan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this first in a new series set in a well realized fantasy realm (the Heart of the World) at war, an aging assassin takes on an apprentice. Before the latter is fully trained, they embark on a highly dangerous mission in the Holy Empire of Mann, that has already resulted in the deaths of three of their order. (When someone buys a Roshun seal, the order knows when they die and is committed to vendetta if they are murdered.)

First we meet farlander Ash on assignment in the frozen Great Hush, where he shows his stuff - and his vulnerability. Not only is Ash getting too old for this kind of work, but he is plagued by debilitating headaches (which in his father's case led to blindness). Near death, Ash has a vision in which his old master demands he take an apprentice. After he agrees, Ash rallies and completes his assignment.

Having fled home (his father left long before after his defence of the city turned him into a violent drunk), Nico lives in Bar-Khos. Besieged by the Mannians, its conquest is only a matter of time. After Nico robs him, Ash offers the boy an apprenticeship in exchange for dropping charges. Nico agrees and accompanies his new master by skyship to the home of his order in Cheem. There he learns to meditate and to fight. He befriends another apprentice, Aleas, as well as Serese, the daughter of Ash's rival, Baracha.

At the head of the bloodthirsty Mannian empire (built on a dark cult) is Holy Matriarch Sasheen. She employs assassins (euphemistically called Diplomats) to influence events. Sasheen's only son Kirkus is on progress with his grandmother, who is toughening him for his future role as Holy Patriarch. In Skara-Brae they select playthings for his initiation - Kirkus picks the governor's daughter, who wears a Roshun seal as one of them.

Of course the Roshun declare vendetta when she dies, but the Holy Matriarch (aware of the danger) puts one of her Diplomats, Ché, in play. When the first three Roshun agents fail to kill Kirkus, Ash and Baracha volunteer, along with their apprentices. They travel to Mannian Q'os, where Serese is already working. There they are watched, the odds incredibly high against their success. Nico has a hard decision to make - and casualties result. As Ash once mused, 'To be sad at passing is to be sad at life'.

This first book of The Heart of the World ends in a most surprising manner, one that has left me very curious as to where Col Buchanan will take his exciting new series next. Farlander is not to be missed by fans of epic fantasy.

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