When raiders attack Aren's village, life as she knows it comes to a sudden, heartbreaking end. On that very same day, something happens to the magics that the bloodmages have been using to contain the land's wild magic, and it all breaks free, allowing creatures only known from legends and songs to reappear. Some, like the hob who lives on the mountain, are benefic, but others, such as hillgrims, with their sharklike teeth, are malicious and dangerous
Aren, who has been hiding her own magical gifts her entire life (lest she be taken by the bloodmages and turned into one of them, cruel and inhuman, destined to eventually go mad), now finds herself admitting to her skills so that she can use them to save the village. Despite all her efforts to help them, she is viewed by her fellow villagers with distrust - people she has known her entire life. Even so, when the time comes to make a sacrifice for them, she never hesitates. Beset by the dangerous wildings, raiders, and the inevitable approach of bloodmages, Aren looks to the hob for help - and he offers her a rather interesting bargain.
This is the second of the earlier books by Patricia Briggs that I've read (the first is When Demons Walk). The first cover is the rerelease, and the second cover is the original one, which does look a bit dated, I think. Plus I imagined the hob in a much different way. I discovered Briggs through her Mercy Thompson series, which I have come to adore. So it's fun to go back and read earlier books. This book is high fantasy, and the magical world, with its blood magic/wild magic clash, makes for an interesting place.
It is the characters, of course, that really captured my attention, which is what I've come to expect from Briggs. Aren is a strong woman, and she has an admirable capacity to move forward despite disapproval and tragedy, to do what must be done. The hob is a complex figure, mischievous and fearless with sorrowful, moody depths beneath the humor. I particularly liked Aren's childhood friend Kith, the one-armed fighting machine - their shared past gives their relationship depth, particularly the way she behaves in certain situations as though, because of their childhood rivalries, she still has something to prove.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure with a dash of romance and believable characters that I came to care about. I look forward to reading Briggs' other earlier works, as I am able to find them. Some are going to be rereleased, which is great news, because those old paperbacks don't hold up very well, particularly in library collections. Here is a complete list of books by Patricia Briggs, including some interesting bits of news on forthcoming titles.
The Hob's Bargain by Patricia Briggs (Ace Books, 2001)
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Book Minx: "The world Briggs built is amazing and left me wanting to know more about it, as was the same for the characters. She had some fantastic characters in this book."
The Written World: "All I can say is that this was another excellent book from an author that I have come to greatly enjoy. It is not paranormal, like her present series are, but it stretches the imagination and has a very readable storyline."