Patricia Bray, Devlin's Luck (Bantam, 2002)

For centuries, the kingdom of Jorsk has been defended by the great warrior known as the Chosen One. He is the man who appears when the kingdom is in peril and puts his life on the line, defeating brigands, invaders, pirates, monsters of all sorts.  It's a hazardous job, and many a Chosen One has fallen in the line of duty, many not even making it past their first mission.  Bound by a geas, sanctioned by the gods, they do unto death for the kingdom, their only reward a vague respect, and the substantial bonus of ten golden disks -- enough to ransom a village or make a man wealthy for the rest of his life.  The post of Chosen One has fallen into disrepute in the past century; those called to it seem... lacking.

Then comes Devlin Stonehand, a farmer with a mysterious past, from far-off Duncaer, known well in Jorsk as a most recalcitrant, unhappily-conquered province.  None from Duncaer have ever been called before.  No farmers have ever come forth before.  Devlin is truly an enigma.  He arrives in tatters, exhausted, intent upon one thing only.  He demonstrates an uncanny feel for swords, leading some to question what else he might have done in his former civilian life.

Once sworn into service, bound with a geas to protect the kingdom with every ounce of strength, Devlin's life is forever altered.  But to the surprise of everyone, even Devlin himself, he survives his first mission, against all odds.  And his second.  And his third.  Impossible, people mutter.  Could he be a true Chosen One?  A true hero?  How can this be?  Duncaer has harbored little love for their conquerors.  Devlin is a man who sought out the role of Chosen One expecting -- and yearning for -- death.

As he cheats death, his past is slowly revealed.  The circumstances that rendered him kinless.  The charges that cast him out from his society.  The strings of the Gods tug at him, and the Geas directs him.  Despite his best intentions, Devlin's fortunes begin to turn, so that he truly serves, and leads.  But a traitor lurks in the halls of state, and the Gods have plans for Devlin, and somewhere out there, the Sword of Light, the weapon belonging to the last great Chosen One, waits to be found...

The concept of the Chosen One is a popular and frequent theme for fantasy series, whether it's the assistant pigkeeper, or the exiled king, or just some poor schlub off the street with an inexplicable, implacable destiny to fulfill.  Patricia Bray takes this old concept and puts a new spin on it, making the Chosen One an official post, one in dire need of improvement, and putting someone like Devlin Stonehand in the role.  The more he looks for death, the more it eludes him, making him a most reluctant hero with nothing to lose.  It's an interesting read, and worth checking out.

Devlin's Luck is the first in the Sword of Change series, to be followed by Devlin's Honor. You can find out more on Patricia Bray's home page. Bantam's Web site is here.

[Michael M. Jones]