This is the fourth Keller book. Keller is like a lot of us -- he's isolated, usually single, drifting through life. He's also a professional hitman.
This books starts with him buying stamps (he's a collector), hanging out while he's waiting to carry out a hit. But then there's another, highly political hit, and he gets framed for it.
So he flees across country, trying to get back to his apartment in New York. As they've broadcast a picture of him, and track down what his rental car and license plates are, this is a bit difficult. It's made even more difficult because he spent most of his cash on stamps, and doesn't dare use his faked credit cards.
He makes it to New York, realizes there's nothing there for him, and strikes out across country again. He ends up taking a break in New Orleans, in one of my favorite passages from the book:
inset: On the other hand, could he really drive all the way to New Orleans, then turn around and drive out again, only to sustain himself with prefabricated burgers and fries from yet another soul-deadening fast-food joint? That hadn't been so bad in Tie Plant, Mississippi, or White Pine, Tennessee, where one's choices were limited, but Keller had been in New Orleans a few times over the years, and he could still remember the beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde. And that was just the tip of the Tabasco bottle -- could he really leave this city without a bowl of gumbo, or a plate of red beans and rice, or an oyster po'boy sandwich, or jambalaya, or crawfish etouffee, or any of the spectacular dishes you could get virtually anywhere in New Orleans, and nowhere else in the world?
He has a chance encounter that causes him to go to ground, and he starts building a life again.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. He spends even more time isolated and alone than usual, and it has his normal deadpan reactions and going along with events as they occur.
I think it was basically a retirement novel, giving Keller a graceful and satisfying end to his career, albeit once that Block can always pull him out of if he feels the need.
If you like Keller, you'll probably like this book. If you haven't read any Keller yet, start with Hit Man instead, it's the first one and, I think, the most delightful. On the other hand, these books aren't spoiled by reading them out of order, if you happen to have a copy of any of the four there's no reason not to start with that one.
This is the first book of a tetralogy. Like all reviews, this one will contain some spoilers, but I'll try to keep from major ones.
Overall, I really liked this book. It has a fairly different feel from other Bujold books. It's a fantasy romance, set in a fairly rustic, low-magic world.
The pacing is rather interesting. The bulk of the action and adventure is in the first chunk, the bulk of the romance and them coming together is in the second chunk, and all of the rest of the book is them dealing with everyone else's reaction to their romance.
Fawn Bluefield is a Farmer "girl" (18), leaving home and painful circumstances, heading towards Glassforge, a town which has an industry (as opposed to being just a small farming village). She hopes to find work and independence there. She's short, pretty, nice, friendly, and really, really smart.
Dag Redwing is an older Lakewalker, a different cultural and ethnic group. He's war-torn and scarred, mentally and physically, and is missing a hand. He's also really, really skilled and capable.
He saves her, he tries to save her again, she saves him and the world. This is just the first part of the book.
The rest of the book involves their recovery, and the romance between them. I really enjoyed the romance between them, they fall for each other quickly and the bond between them remains strong. It's the rest of the world that supplies the antagonism to their romance. Farmers and Lakewalkers aren't supposed to date, or for that matter, engage in any form of intimate contact. Intermarriage is unthinkable.
This book goes through them dealing with her family, dealing with Dag's family is left to the next book.
The farmers are all of the common-folk (including the mayors of towns and such). A large chunk are actual farmers, but it also includes tailors, blacksmiths, glass-makers, etc.
Compared to Lakewalkers, they're shorter-lived, shorter, and don't have any magic.
The Lakewalkers spends most of its effort patrolling for malices, more about them below. They also have a trade going in items that they've magically enhanced to be better. And they'll sometimes come to the aid of the farmers in other ways, for example, they might aid in the case of bandit trouble.
They can see and manipulate "ground", something that runs through everything, living or dead. They use this to sense things or people around them (range varies based on Lakewalker, but 1 mile isn't unheard of), to heal each other, and to produce enhanced items. For example, blades that don't rust and stay sharp.
Compared to Farmers, they're longer-lived and taller.
Malices (or Blight Bogles) are a sort of boss monster that appears semi-randomly, and then grows more and more powerful, and creates its own army of mudmen as well as mind-controlling (or slaving) farmers. They suck the life (or "ground") out of everything around them, and go through "molts" where they achieve a new level of ability. They also can take the knowledge and abilities from people, and give those abilities to its mudmen.