This book started out promising, but ended up being a throwaway read. While not as bad as some I’ve tried to read (I actually finished this one), the persistent editing issues (including minor misspellings, repetitive wording, and bits that were obviously left in after having been rewritten in the sentences immediately following) and overall bland storytelling made this an extremely forgettable book.
The core problem, as best I can guess, is that the book probably started life as a bunch of plot points. A lot of stuff happens to the main character, but he does little more than react to whatever is immediately occurring, and his motivations and desires are all very superficial and liable to change with every passing breeze. This is a character who has gods directly answering his prayers (often in very dramatic fashion) and the most he can summon up the gumption to do is follow orders like he’s a character from some low-budget RPG performing fetch-and-carry quests. A lot of his reactions seem forced and superficial, as well. “Oh my god, I delivered a message to a SPY? Spies are bad! I don’t want to be a spy! I hope he doesn’t make me be a spy! Oh, he wants me to be a spy? I guess I’ll be a spy.” Come on, dude. You’ve got goddesses practically holding out a handkerchief whenever you sneeze; figure out what you want from life and act on it! (Or at least desire something slightly less juvenile and reactive than, “I don’t want to be a spy when I grow up, because spies are…bad? Yeah. They’re sneaky and bad!”)
In any case, if you’re absolutely desperate for something to read and don’t mind generic fantasy with flat characters, you could do worse. At least the stuff happening to the main character is, for the most part, interesting. I will not be reading any more of the this series, though; it just isn’t worth the time.
We meet Ferris, a human military squad leader, who is tasked with setting a forest on fire so that Hydrotaz, his country (city? It’s never really clear), can claim some land from the forest-living elves. He never comes into contact with our main character and is the point of view character for exactly three scenes in the entire book, none of have any impact on the main character or the story within this particular volume. When his attempts at disrespecting Smokey Bear fail, he shows up with help from another city (whose name I can’t remember, but it starts with a “G”), who after succeeding at the whole “laying waste to the forest” thing promptly turns around and conquers Hydrotaz, takes Ferris’ family (and apparently the families of all the other military types) as hostages, and enlists him in their own army.
Of course, we don’t give a damn about Ferris, because he does little but presumably setup conflicts in later books and distract us from the actual main character, who is a half-elf, half-human bloke named Kestrel. Kestrel gets a lot of grief because his ears aren’t pointy enough (seriously), but when he asks a human goddess to put out a massive forest fire that he notices getting started on his watch she complies.
His story of said divine intervention interests his commander Mastrin, who sends Kestrel off to the elf capital to meet up with Command Silvin. Who turns out to be a spy.
Kestrel then spends hundreds of pages in existential angst because Spies Are Liar-Faces And He Shouldn’t Have To Be One Just Because He Looks Kind Of Like A Human, meanwhile doing absolutely everything that Silvin tells him to do. He also manages to pick up chicks in every discrete location he visits, including Cheryl (daughter of Commander Mastrin back home), Dewberry (small blue sprite, who after he rescues her from a wolf promises him favors), Lucretia (elf lady in the capital city), Belinda (married older elf lady at Firhelm where spies are trained), Merilla (human lady from the city of Estone, who he saves from a yeti), and Alicia (elf surgeon, married to Silvin–the drama!). Despite agonizing over each relationship, being in extremely compromising nude situations with most of these ladies, and having them sometimes literally throw themselves at him, he somehow manages to never do anything more than some light kissing with any of them.
Although in fairness, he does try to get it on with the human lady twice, only to be interrupted by Dewberry both times (which he interprets as divine intervention, so they mope about a bit over the way they will never get to be together).
Aside from almost-but-not-quite shacking it up with all these ladies, Kestrel goes places and fights stuff (typically in that order), is publicly branded Champion of Estone by a goddess and the ruling figure (called the Doge), frees some elves from slavery, and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he’s going to be a spy out in human lands.
At which point he finally runs across an ambassador from a far-southern city called Uniontown (which is pretty ominous just on its own), who claims to represent a new group of gods and throws down with Kestrel at a fancy dress party. Kestrel handily defeats him thanks to an act of deus ex machina that gives him an invincible heat-seaking knife, and then just before he boards a ship to head down to the Inner Seas human lands, the book ends.