Rating: 4.5 stars
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Orphaned at an early age when his father was hanged and his mother committed suicide, Brute is further isolated by those around him by his unusual size. A giant by any standards, Brute knows that others look at him as though he were little more than a dumb animal, good for nothing more than moving large rocks and trees. But inside of his monstrous frame, the real Brute is gentle and kind with a heart equal to his size. Then one day Brute’s world changes. Brute’s job is to move rocks on a bridge project being built outside of his village and one day the palace sends the youngest prince to check on the progress. When the prince falls off the edge of the cliff, Brute rescues him, but at the cost of his own arm. Now maimed, Brute wonders how he will live when the prince sends for him and gives him a job. His new job is caretaker to a imprisoned traitor, one with a special gift.
The prisoner, Gray Leynham, hates his gift. He can see the deaths of others in his dreams. Gray is blind, chained, and nearly mute from his misery. Where others see a wretched traitor, Brute sees a person in need of kindness and a friend. Palace life gives Brute a new perspective on life and his own self worth. As his friendship with Gray progresses into that of lovers, Brute is faced with several life changing decisions. Brute has always believed in doing the right thing, no matter the cost. But this time, Brute must decide what the right thing to do really is and doing so might cost him everything he has finally achieved: friends, home, a lover, and even his own life.
Brute is a lovely story, a tale of a gentle giant with magical overtones. Kim Fielding does a nice job of creating a universe where magic, or to be more exact, certain gifts like the ability to heal or prescience, the ability to foresee the future, are acknowledged and valued amongst a society existing at a medieval level. When we meet up with Brute (not his real name), he is grown and working as a day laborer. Brute exists at the bottom rung of his village’s social strata, earning a pittance wage, taken advantage of, abused, and generally treated as an idiot. And it is all mostly due to his extreme size, well over 7 feet tall and 300 pounds in weight. But the author also gives us a glimpse of a happy childhood that came to an abrupt end and we feel for the poor little boy left all alone to fend for himself. Brute is such a gentle, sweet soul that it is easy to empathize with his physically and emotionally barren life he is living. And all the changes that happen to him during the course of his arrival at the palace are revealed in such a way that we get to experience it first hand as Brute does, marveling at everything from his new boots to the food he gets to eat.
And then there is Gray Leynham, rumored witch, traitor, and blind prisoner at the palace. Again Fielding lets us feel how Brute perceives the prisoner and then watch as the relationship is forged between Brute and Gray, stemming from Brute’s compassionate nature and sense of right and wrong. I liked that Gray is flawed and actually at fault for the position he is in, something I did not expect but should have considering the author behind the pen. Fielding always puts her own twists on story elements we have seen before, turning them into her own creations and Brute does that again and again. Every time I thought the story might sail into fairylandia, Fielding brought it back down to the ground with a brush or more of reality. Brute is not some overgrown child adult but someone who sees the consequences of his and everyone else’s actions, someone who accepts responsibilities and the painful truths that life delivers. Fielding consistently brings a grittiness to her stories that gives them an authenticity I appreciate.
Fielding does an excellent job with layering her characters, making them so accessible in their personalities and actions that we are engaged in the storyline and their futures immediately. You can count on realistically drawn characters, speaking dialog that matches their stations, and personalities whose actions mesh perfectly within the parameters the author has set for them. Do not be surprised to find yourself so emotionally connected to these people that the tears flow on their behalf.
My only quibble with Brute concerns the ending. I wished that the author had left us with a little more idea of what the future holds for Brute. Not to imply that I was unhappy with the ending, I was satisfied but just wanted that little bit more. There were several characters that I also connected with, including the cook Alys and especially her brother, Warin, who I loved. And I wanted to know what happened to them as much as I did the main characters. But that qualm aside, I can recommend Brute as a wonderful fantasy story that will warm your heart and leave you smiling once the story is finished.
Cover: Paul Richmond is perfect for the story in tone and graphics.