Possibly my favorite of the cruise books was Kage Baker’s first fantasy novel, The Anvil of the World. Unfortunately, it’s the hardest to describe. Oh, it’s otherworld fantasy, apparently stand-alone, told in three novellas that build upon each other—but that doesn’t say what it’s about.
Let’s try one way. There was once a prophesied Holy Child, whose birth led to the revolt of the enslaved Yendri race, who then fled across the sea where they could live in peace. Except that the Master of the Mountain, a half-demon mage, kept raiding and plundering the Yendri villages. When grown, the Holy Child (now called the Green Saint), delivered her people from the depredations of the evil Master through the redemptive power of True Love. [*]
This is not their story.
[*] That is, she married him and forced him (and the subsequent brood of highly conflicted children) to behave.
It is the story of Smith, an assassin trying to get out of the business, who finds himself leading a caravan from Troon to Salesh-by-the-Sea in the first novella. He becomes acquainted with several people on the journey (including one of the children of the Green Saint and the Master); these acquaintances will lead him to deeper understanding of, and choices about, himself and the place of his race (the Children of the Sun) in the world.
You see the difficulty I am having? That sounds awfully ponderous, and while this book has a serious core (race relations and environmental awareness are certainly serious topics), it’s anything but ponderous. Consider the opening:
Troon, the golden city, sat within high walls on a plain a thousand miles wide. The plain was golden with barley.
The granaries of Troon were immense, towering over the city like giants, taller even than its endlessly revolving windmills. Dust sifted down into its streets and filled its air in the Month of the Red Moon and in every other month, for that matter, but most especially in that month, when the harvest was brought in from the plain in long lines of creaking carts, raising more dust, which lay like a fine powder of gold on every dome and spire and harvester’s hut.
All of the people of Troon suffered from chronic emphysema.
Priding itself as it did, however, on being the world’s breadbasket, Troon put up with the emphysema. Wheezing was considered refined, and the social event of the year was the Festival of Respiratory Masks.
And then there’s the duel using Fatally Verbal Abuse as a weapon, and Festival in Salesh (during which, it is said, nothing is forbidden, though alas this refers to sins of the flesh only and does not encompass manslaughter; and which features a cooking competition called the Pageant of Lascivious Cuisine for the Prolongation of Ecstasy), and the scene with the Liver Tartare, which caused Chad to ask me what I was giggling so helplessly at . . .
The Anvil of the World pulls off a journey from humorous and domestic, to deeply mythic, that few other novels manage—Bridge of Birds and Terry Pratchett’s better books are what comes to mind at the moment. I am almost certainly failing to do the book justice, but I enjoyed the heck out of it and strongly recommend trying it for yourself.