Wards and Wonders by Kay L. Ling

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I read another book by this author for my SPFBO thing last year set in the same universe, and I liked that one!  I had never read a book where the primary nonhuman characters are gnomes! In the last series the POV was from a human, but this time it’s a gnome!


 

This book picks up after the events of Ling’s other series, Beyond the Forest. The old oppressor, Shaemathan, has been defeated but it’s not all rainbows and roses. Shaemathan wreaked havoc on the gnomes of the Amulet, and the repercussions are still being felt. One of the biggest impacts Shaemathan had was isolating a group of gnomes for over 200 years from the rest of the gnomish world. She created a small pocket where the gnomes were enslaved and couldn’t get away, nor could other gnomes come in and try to rescue them. This lead to a small subculture that does things very differently from the rest of the world, and being introduced to the larger society is a bit rocky.

The main character, Tyla, is considered a hero due to her actions in the other series, and although she’s not a “noble” or an “elder” the rest of society still looks to her for direction and guidance. At the beginning of the book, a delegation is arriving from the capital, and things aren’t going that well. They bring with them several woodspirits, one of which is the tyrant’s sister, and they are clearly not amused that Shaemathan has been turned into a beetle and stripped of her powers. There’s a struggle for justice between the gnomes and the woodspirits in regards to how to deal with Shaemathan. The woodspirits want to take Shaemathan back with them and “rehabilitate” her, while the gnomes, after suffering for several generations under her torment, are convinced that rehabilitation isn’t an option, and the only way to keep society safe is keeping Shaemathan locked away.

Much of this book revolves around re-introducing the small isolated group of gnomes back into their own culture, and a lot of it is shocking to them. They had no concept of currency, their economy was barter and trade and not gems like the rest of the world. There’s a lot of pushback and many of them feeling like this reintroduction is going poorly, and that they’d rather be left alone. There are lots of laws and requirements that they now have to follow, including an inspection for “witnesses”

Witnesses are lumps, scarring, or other deformities that gnomes develop when they “do something evil”. A small lump can grow on the arms or the face if they steal something, for instance. Each gnome is going to be subjected to a “thorough inspection” looking for witnesses, and if found they will have to pay a tax. There are a lot of taxes being introduced, and it leaves them wondering how they are going to manage it all.  There’s actually a fair bit of economy talk in this one and I wasn’t expecting that. Those with low incomes or those considered Outcasts have a hard time getting by and sometimes rely on illegal dark gem trading.

The world building in this was whimsical, I love how the gnomes use “tree roads” to get from one place to another. Trees in this world have their own “dimension” and gnomes can essentially teleport from one to the next making it much faster than walking.

I also really loved the Breghlin in this book, the Breghlin were slaves to Shaemathan before her defeat, and they look like deformed dwarves. Since they were enslaved and forced to do evil, they look like they are covered in “witnesses” and it makes other gnomes stand-offish. In the larger part of gnome society, those covered in witnesses are considered Outcasts, and have their own slums and districts they are confined to, in attempts to keep the larger part of the city ‘clean’. There are two Breghlin that follow around the main character, they’re funny, they get into trouble – but they also pick up on things that Tyla doesn’t. They think she’s far too trusting and they are constantly spying on people for Tyla even though she doesn’t want them to.

Gnomes in most places will wear a badge that indicates that they are a “gem power” user. In most cultures, the ratio of gem users to “nopes” is about 1/20, but for the gnomes of the Amulet it’s about 1/5, the main character is also a gem user but she’s pretty hesitant about putting on a badge, she’s also reluctant to be called a hero, and is unsure why people still insist on looking to her for leadership. I liked her overall, she’s a good person who looks out for the underdogs and tries to make sure that she treats people fairly, so it’s pretty easy to get behind her and root for her.

The pacing was steady, it wasn’t rushed and it didn’t drag – and part of that is due to the plotting and part of it is due to the writing style. The writing is a single POV with very minimal flowery writing, so it goes by very quickly. The plot slowly unfurls throughout the book, and about 30% in I figured out where it was going. There were a few things that stuck out to me about the writing that made me pause. The Breghlin are described as being “genetically altered” versions of gnomes – but that’s one of the only real-world science references in the series. It may have made more sense to say something like “magically altered”, not a big deal, just being nitpicky.

Like the last book, I really loved the originality of this one – I don’t see gnomes that often, and when I do they’re background noise, very rarely taking up any of the plots or being used as the main character. I really liked the gem lore, and how not only do the gems provide the user with powers, but they can also be used as currency with their own denominations for each of the 6 gnomish cities.

Audience:

For people who like:

  • female pov
  • gnome pov
  • culture shock
  • whimsical world building
  • fast reads
  • lighter reads
  • portal fantasy
  • lots of fantasy elements/magic

Ratings:

  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 11/15
  • World Building: 12.5/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 12/15
  • Originality: 13.5/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 8/10

Final Score: 80/100 – 4 stars, recommended for the target audience

 

 

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