Kage Baker, known for her SF series featuring The Company, scores another daring work with her first fantasy novel. Smith has problems. From the moment he agreed to lead a caravan from the inland city of Troon to the seaside resort of Salesh, he is plagued with bad luck. He's trying to leave his life as an assassin behind, but the caravan is plagued with mystery, magic and murder, as well as a dissolute half-breed demon lord, crying babies, a white-uniformed nurse, a gourmet cook and 144 glass butterflies. Arriving in Salesh, Smith starts a new life as an innkeeper, but those he befriended on the journey keep turning up in need, drawing him down ever-surprising paths.

There's never been a fantasy novel quite like this. Dark humor, broad slapstick, sharp dialogue, breathtaking action, bittersweet romance—it's all here, with unexpected and gratifying emotional impact. Baker echoes the best of fantasy tradition, integrating history, adventure and thoughtful social commentary while creating a wholly original and extraordinary work. (Aug., 352 pp., $25.95)

Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum