Title: The Nethergrim
Author: Matthew Jobin
Edmund, the son of the innkeeper in the tiny village of Moorvale, has higher aspirations than waiting on tables and serving ale for the rest of his life. Too bad his father—who likes to remind him he stands to inherit the inn—doesn’t agree. But life won’t always be hard work and his small circle of friends, Katherine and Tom. Animals are disappearing. Children, too. Supernatural evils are once again rising up, and this time, Moorvale hasn’t got heroes like Tristan and Vithric to rally the villagers to defend themselves. Or have they? When the terror strikes too close to home, Edmund isn’t willing to just sit by . . .
This has a nice amount of depth and complexity, while not sacrificing a good plot. I was impressed by how well-drawn each character was. Edmund, with his love of books and magic, and his burning desire to be a wizard, or at least something more than an innkeeper. Geoffry, his royal pest of a younger brother (and let’s not even talk about Geoffry’s friends. I was surprised the plot managed to find a way to make me like them at all with how nasty they are in the beginning). Katherine, an only daughter who wishes she were a son, so that her father wouldn’t have to be shamed for teaching her the sword or her ashamed for learning it, and wanting more than to be a wife and mother in a town where no woman is anything but. Tom, a slave with an abusive master, but a possibly magical gift with animals.
I liked how complex the relationships were. Edmund likes Katherine a lot, but can’t quite get over his shyness to tell her so—and she clearly doesn’t see him as other than a friend (or is deliberately trying not to see it). Katherine with her own crush, who probably likes her back, but his family would never stand for the two of them to be wed, no matter how highly they think of her father. Or the way the social hierarchy is so rigid, and everyone knows their place, which makes some of the later scenes between the lord and his villagers so tense.
The magic system also had an intriguing setup, and a lot of potential. I particularly liked the conversation about how it’s not possible for a death spell to be mass-produced. The magic felt mysterious as well as workable.
I also liked the details. Edmund might be working at the inn, but that doesn’t exempt him from helping out with the harvest. Or how the villagers were required to practice longbow so they would be ready to fight if called upon. The images of the mountain path, and the stronghold, and what waited for them there were excellent, and it’s the little touches around the everyday life that builds up everyone into real people who stand to lose everything important to them.
A further pleasant surprise is just who ends up with Edmund as he approaches said stronghold. This was not who I expected, and the combination of maturity and youth gives a great sense of balance—old memories revived and book knowledge come to life. The story of the past and present, both recent past and far-flung history, interweave.
The end more or less ties up, although clearly leaving the door wide open for a sequel. I hope it shows up soon. Solid writing plus excellent characters makes me eager to read more. I rate this book Recommended.