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Playing to the Gods
by Melanie Rawn
Tor, $29.99, 448 pages
Published: August 2017

Starting with Touchstone (review here) and continuing through Elsewhen (review here), Thornlost,(review here) and Window Wall (review here), Melanie Rawn has created a masterpiece of world-  and character-building. In the kingdom of Albeyn, acting troupes, formally composed of a tregetour playwright, a glister who enchants the audience, a fettler who keeps them safe, and a masker who recites the words — all of them wielding magic — tour the country, compete for prizes and entertain exalted guests in command performances. Sometimes they merely entertain, sometimes they offer commentary on the residual strifes left in the wake of the recent war, sometimes they serve a darker purpose. The Black Lightning troupe is dead set to attain fame and fortune by facilitating the machinations of devious members of court.

The members of Touchstone perform for the love of their craft, but also from necessity. The wealth that should have been theirs has been squandered and stolen, so they have to rebuild their fortunes. A deeper compulsion is their sense of duty and their love for family and friends. Cade the tregetour is still struggling to master his dangerous gift of seeing possible futures and his addiction to suppressants, but he has largely gotten past the traps and temptations that caused earlier misfortunes. He is more determined than ever to be the conscience of the kingdom, not only to safeguard the brightest of the alternate futures he has foreseen but to protect his younger brother from becoming a pawn in the cruel games of the mighty; to protect his friend, the glister Miska, from dangers the elf seems to attract the way a magnet pulls to itself iron filings; and to prevent the elsewhen war he has foreseen.

For certain shadowy persons have decided that a war is exactly what they want, and their agents are fomenting fear and hatred throughout the kingdom. Can four young men divert their audiences from a deadly script that has been written to compel them all? Acting singly, no; together, perhaps, but they will need allies, and they will have to hold on to their belief that love is more real than fear.  – Chris Wozney

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