Felix is a flautist who knows more songs than you can shake a stick at — he’s even written a popular drinking song about his friend, Scorch, who saved the Queen herself! (Felix was there; he was a small part of it, but still a part.) As a reward for his part in the grand events, Felix is given a silver flute that he is certain must have a small bit of its own magic, because how else do you explain everything that happens next?
Not only does the son of the great Guildmaster fall in love with him, but he also invites Felix to come back with him. And then they are attacked by bandits and Felix is kidnapped and forced to play for his life. Using his magic flute, he manages to charm the Bandit King, Torsten, into letting him live, which brings on its own problems. Then there are the wolves, the other bandit (who certainly lacks in the manners department), the magic woman who lives in a cave, and the pirates.
It’s one thing to sing about adventures. It’s another to live them. But, given the choice, Felix would much rather see where this story is going than — you know — die. So, flute in hand, he’s ready to take this adventure and see where the road leads him.
While this book picks up in the aftermath of the adventures in book one of the Vanguards of Viridor series, The Sun Guardian, it can easily be read as a standalone. This is Felix’s story, and he is entirely wrapped up in his own thoughts. What world building was in the first book isn’t readily found here because Felix doesn’t really care. Living, he cares about. Not being sold into slavery, he cares about. Politics, history, and the rights of elemental magicians who were killed for having magic? Not so much. The first book didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life for people without power in a world of bandits, pirates, and kings, and while this book doesn’t shy away from them either, it’s a softer, sweeter story.
We first meet Felix in book one as a frightened, but plucky, young man who’d lived a hard life, and we see shades of it in the way he flinches from unwanted touches, instinctively clinging to Torsten for protection, who — no matter how much he may distrust him as a bandit — has been kind to him and gentle, requiring nothing more than company at night. As a narrator he’s prone to florid, overwrought descriptions and, being both a prisoner and a peasant, he has a self-deprecating manner and quite a bit of insecurity.
While Felix may be a prisoner, he refuses to act like it. He asks questions, he pays attention, and when he learns how to use the magic flute, he uses it well and cleverly. He’s brave and selfless and giving. He feels keenly the death of the Guildmaster’s son, but he’s not mourning a lover. He’s mourning the waste of life. He hates the idea of killing, and when given a chance to keep people from dying — even at the risk of his own life — he does so with eyes wide open and his heart beating like a hummingbird.
Torsten, at first, is more of an idea than a man. He’s the king of the bandits who seems to have an interest in Felix beyond his flute playing or his singing. He’s cold one minute, concerned the next. The first night of Felix’s captivity, he’s chained to the ground, outside in the weather, but when Torsten sees how easily hurt the young man is he brings him into his own tent. Not for the obvious, though he’s tempted, but to keep him safe. And warm. (And to keep him from running away.)
Torsten is a loyal man, loyal to his men and to his people. He’s not the murdering bastard that Felix takes him for, and he tries to show Felix the truth with small gestures of kindness and, finally, by showing him the truth — who he robs and why, where the money and food go. In The Sun Guardian we get hints about corruption in the kingdom (and in some places more obvious than others), but this is the first time Felix has had a good, hard look at what is being done to the smallfolk living right outside the castle walls.
Felix, for all his ability to be overwhelmed by stronger forces — stronger men, stronger dangers, stronger opinions — has quite a spine in this book. Perhaps his time with Scorch (the reprobate hero from book one) taught him to give voice to his own thoughts, not let them wither and die in his head. Torsten’s bandit camp is visited by another bandit, Gethrin, who is truly vile, but in a casual, native way that hints not so much at some Machiavellian great evil, but the sort of cruel malice and monstrousness that any normal man can have when he has no morals, but money and just enough power to make horrible things happen. Felix’s fear throughout the scene was palpable, and his bitter words, flung at Torsten, were not only eloquent … they were true. This really is one of my favorite passages from the book:
“You’re not my savior,” he said, his words spoken slowly and with great care. He couldn’t let the tears brimming in his eyes fall free. “I’m not safe here. I’m trapped. You might keep me warm and fed, and you haven’t,” his voice caught, “touched me. But I’m still a prisoner. Don’t act like you’ve done me a favor by keeping that man’s hands off me, because all you’ve done is remind me that it was your decision to make and not mine.”
Torsten stared at him, wide-eyed.
“To answer your question, no, I’m not alright,” Felix continued, snuffling into the fur blanket. “I’m a bandit’s plaything. I’m your prize to be pulled out and coveted by dinner guests.”
“You’re not like him,” Felix said, cutting him off. “It’s true. You’re better. You have good intentions, I think, most of the time. But you’re not good. And if you’re expecting my thanks, I can’t give it to you.”
I went into this story expecting Felix might be little more than a starry eyed romantic, a perpetual victim ready to swoon whenever a harsh look was shot his way. What I got was a character who knew who he was and what was being done to him. He knew what was right and what was wrong, and even though it might have cost him his life, he wasn’t going to compromise his truth for anyone. I enjoyed the first book in this story, but I enjoy Felix so much more. Felix isn’t a trope. He’s a person, and while he might not have a shining sword and a white horse, make no mistake. Felix is the hero of his own story. Of the two books in this series, this one is by far my favorite, and I honestly can’t wait to read book three.