Excellent fantasy – very 90s, and I devoured it in a single Saturday. Teenage boy with no family gets helped out of prison by a mysterious stranger who accepts him as apprentice. Said stranger turns out to be a jack-of-all trades spy, a charming and capable rogue. They encounter harship and intrigue and find friends and blah blah, classic fantasy story arc in the end.
I’m can’t quite pin down what made this book so good for me, but I can point at some things that contributed. There is clearly a full world, and we get a bit of well-integrated information, but it’s never huge infodumps, and there are small world building details even for places we won’t see again, just as decent backdrop building. There are legends, and there is history, and there are songs (well, two songs, it ain’t Tolkien, but they’re good), there is religion – both in theory and non-intrusive practice. The world-building extends to having towns of sensible make-ups, reasonable trade routes, and the smallest details fit in well: for example, the protagonist gets lessons on how to eat the local seafood, and how to interpret the fancy china people have, and what the traditional pattern could mean (is the owner to cheap to get his own pattern, or too traditional, or unimaginative?).
The characters are fleshed out in a way that feels natural, not (like some books) trying to get reviewers to say “ooh, the characters are fleshed out”. The dialogue flows naturally from the characters, and generally the writing quality is the upper end of solid. It also helps that I’m a sucker for a good apprenticeship story. I’m so very much going to read the next part of the series.
Side note: This story is tagged as queer because there is some implicit upcoming m/m romance, and also some explicit past bi and gay relationship stuff. Nothing explicit in the plot … yet.