Now that Kage Baker has finished her "Company" series, what is she to do? She's quite the prolific author, so she’s delivered many stories since that conclusion. One thing she has done is return to the fantasy world of Lord Ermenwyr and his unique parentage. The House of the Stag tells the story of how his parents met and ended up married. When your mother is a goddess and your father is a demon, it must be an interesting story, yes? It is. Baker's usual first-rate prose and characterization washed the rather bitter taste of The Sons of Heaven right out of my mouth.
The Yendri lead a quiet, pastoral life in a land with no violence and not much conflict. This is before the Riders came bearing down on them, enslaving them, killing them, or forcing them to hide out in the forests. The only one was willing to fight back was Gord, a demon discovered in the woods as a baby. Rage consumes him; after a horrible accident, he makes his way through the mountains. Enslaved himself, forced to fight for the pleasure of his "betters," he discovers subtle ways to fight back. This is the story of the rise of Gord, how he becomes the Dark Lord, and how he becomes a father and husband while keeping his dark reputation intact.
Baker does an excellent job in The House of the Stag in bringing all of her characters to life. Gord is the most prominent, but she litters the story with all of these interesting people around him who make the story move quickly even as you're wallowing in the pleasure of reading about them. Gord goes through many situations, especially once he has escaped, and all of them elicit more delicious characterization from Baker's pen. There's the theater troupe he joins after entering the realm of the Children of the Sun, with a varied cast including a lovesick young woman and the arrogant director she's in love with, even though he doesn't notice her at all. That sounds clichéd, but Baker makes it her own.
The same applies to the Yendri after Gord leaves them, despite the fact that these sections aren’t as interesting as Gord's story. We see the child who is found, who will lead the Yendri away from the Riders and into the new world to find them a place where they can live at peace again. Factions develop within Yendri society, though, as viewpoints differ on how to live with their newfound neighbors. The Child, known simply as "The Saint," attempts to keep the Yendri together without destroying their very nature, but some of her underlings have other plans. When she and Gord finally come together, we hear the echo of all of the other stories featuring Lord Ermenwyr and his parents.
The ending does come a bit quickly, given that with 10 pages left to go I figured we were heading for a cliffhanger. Thankfully, while it is quick, it still makes sense within the context of the story and doesn't feel forced. The rest of the plotting demonstrates Baker's usual flair for storytelling, her characters soldiering through disparate situations that force them to grow and change to adapt to their changing circumstances. She has created a fascinating world, with the human-like "Children of the Sun" creating a lot of technology for war and violence but very little for the healing arts. The Yendri meet that need but find their culture being adversely affected by their interactions with the Children. The demons hide out within the Children's society, some tied to their masters' horrible whims due to the fact that their true name is known. Baker once again shows great imagination.
The best thing about The House of the Stag is Baker's prose filled with her characteristic wit. There are some funny characters and comments, but ultimately the story itself is serious, and she handles the contrast between the two quite well. The humor never feels out of place, merely lightening the mood just a touch. It gets especially good once the Saint and Gord are brought together; their relationship is often one of my favorite parts of an Ermenwyr story.
Kage Baker fans will love this book. If you're not a fan yet, you should be, and The House of the Stag is as good an introduction as any other. You certainly don't have to be familiar with the world in order to read this book. If you've read The Anvil of the World and it intrigued you, this is definitely a must-own. Give it a try - discover just why Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. You won't be sorry.