Speak to the Devil


Dave Duncan


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 1, 2013

hen I finished Speak to the Devil, I felt that I had just read one of the longest prologues ever written. Speak to the Devil is the first book in a projected series, so Duncan uses the first installment to introduce us to the many brothers of the Magnus clan. Wulf is the youngest brother, and the star of the series. His older brothers are Marek, Anton, Otto and Vlad. Because of leisurely pace of this novel, the reader gets to know of each of these brothers in turn - most of the book involves Wulf traveling around to gather each of his brothers to the Castle Gallant - a strategic outpost on the northern border of the mythical kingdom of Jorgary. Once all five brothers are at the castle, the novel ends. There are some dramatic developments in the final chapters - the real story begins in the final pages. Hopefully all this world-creation and character development leads to a lively series of stories full of derring-do and intrigue.

Jorgary is a mythical kingdom, but it is located somewhere in medieval Europe around the 15th century. But this is not the Europe of our history, because some of the characters have the ability to work magic. Working magic involves talking to saints - make a verbal request (a prayer) to the saints, and your prayers are answered, though not without a price being paid. The more magic worked, the higher the price paid by the magic user. Wulf, the youngest son, has the gift (curse?) of hearing the Voices of the Saints. He is a magic worker, and thus must fear the powerful church, which punishes magic workers as Speakers to the Devil. Naturally, Wulf continually finds himself in desperate situations which require ever greater magical feats.

Duncan sets up the plot so that our heroes are in the most desperate situation. Wulf is hunted by the church, which condemns all magic users. The Castle Gallant is essential to defending the northern border of Jorgary, but the impotent King of Jorgary has no army to send to its defense. An army from the nearby country of Wend is said to be marching toward the castle, and they are bringing with them a mighty cannon that will be capable of knocking down the walls of Castle Gallant. Also, Vranov, the treacherous border lord, was supposed to help Castle Gallant, yet clearly he is working with the Wends. Naturally, the Wends have their own magic users Speaking to the Devil. And just to top off the intrigue, Wulf is in love with the young bride of his brother Anton!

I confess that there is one plot device that annoys me - I hate it when the hero has a mortal enemy defenseless, but lets the enemy depart rather than just killing him. Are good guys really so foolish? A quick murder could easily be concealed, all evidence removed, while letting the villain go will create endless dangers - why not just stab the guy through the heart? Yes, it allows the author to bring back the bad guy for more plot twists, but I don't like that plot device, especially when the hero has already shown the capacity for killing and ambush and the villain is clearly an evil murderer himself.

Clearly there is a lot of material here, I hope this series starts to roll along. I liked The Gilded Chain by Duncan, so I know he can write adventures tales. Hopefully, now that all the pieces are in place on the game board, Duncan unleashes a few exciting novels about Wulf and his brothers.