I've had this in my TBR pile for quite a while, and finally got around to reading it. It's the start of one of those high fantasy-type novels, but rest assured: There are no elves or orcs within its pages. Patricia Bray's Sword of Change trilogy starts with this book, and I've already ordered the other two.
Devlin Stonehand is a farmer and metalworker from the country of Duncaer. He arrives during a festival in Jorsk, seeking to become Chosen One. The Chosen One, basically, is defender of the crown, although it's more of a ceremonial position than anything else, because the past several Chosen Ones have not lived longer than a few months.
Despite Devlin being a bit surly, he is befriended by a minstrel, Stephen, and by the head of the Guards, Captain Drakken (a woman :-)). He does have reasons for his surliness and for wanting to distance himself from most people.
Let's just say that what happened in his past caused him much pain and shame.
To test the new Chosen One, Captain Drakken decides to send Devlin to hunt down and take out some bandits who have murdered lesser nobles on one of the king's roads. He goes alone, figuring that, with any luck, he'll be killed. But it doesn't quite work out at that way, and he figures out who the murderer is by almost being murdered himself.
Then - after being given the okay by the council - Devlin is sent to the town of Esker to take care of what the local people call a skrimsal - a huge water serpent (think Loch Ness Monster).
But he has to contend with more than just the skrimsal): A populace who would rather hide than fight, and a darkly magical being that seems interested in the Chosen One and his special ring...
At least it's not in a subgenre that I feel like writing in, lol.
I understood Devlin from the get-go. This is a man, late 30s or in his 40s, who felt he let down his family. That he had a family only comes out in drips and drabs; his shame - or his pride - won't let him say much about them.
I liked how Devlin struggled with opening up to people, especially to the minstrel, Stephen.
Stephen is also a well-fleshed-out character. His rose-colored glasses are firmly on until he tags along with Devlin to Esker; as the story continued, his transition from a wide-eyed innocent to a cautious, thinking young man made sense. That he became one of Devlin's only friends in Jorsk was also believable.
From the looks of it, you'd think that this was the usual "guy finds out he has powers," but it's nothing as shallow as that. First, Devlin seeks out this particular position. Second, the powers (known as the Geas) are bestowed on him in a special rite.
Third, and probably the thing I liked most, was that Devlin is not an outgoing guy; he's downright surly, growling and grunting at most people. (Some people would say the same about me, heh.) He's a hardened man, and he doesn't take crap from people, and doesn't expect anything but the same in return. And yet, we get a few tender moments, like when he goes off by himself to perform a Duncaer ritual for his dead family.
Me like. Which is why I've already ordered the other two books in this series. :-)