Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett

Brayan’s Gold is a novella that forms part of the back story for the main character in a set of novels by Peter V. Brett, which I have not read. It began as a reference tossed into the first of those, “reminding people that Arlen had a ton of adventures back when he was young and working for the Messenger’s Guild,” as Brett relates in the introduction. He originally had no intention of explaining the reference, but a friend of him convinced him to flesh it out. “Dude,” Matt said. “You’re passing up a chance to write about snow demons?”

And so, in time, Brett seized that chance. Brayan’s Gold is a fun, slight adventure tale that follows Arlen, a young Messenger who is more than he seems. The setting is vaguely medieval, in a world where demons are real and come out every night to rend apart any human they may find outside towns or refuges protected by written magical wards. Few people venture far from home anyway, setting up a niche for Messengers who are fast and reasonably fearless, delivering dispatches and other light items among the feudal rulers of the various territories that Brett describes. The world he shows is sparsely settled, with stretches of wilderness between the protected towns. People make their way along known paths, always making sure to stop at a warded campground overnight, if they cannot reach their destination.

One of the furthest settlements is a fabulously wealthy mining outpost. “Ten nights’ travel from the city proper, it was the sole mine on the third mountain to the west, and higher up than any other.” The delivery? Tundersticks — dynamite for the mine. Naturally, they’re needed in a hurry, and the regular courier for that run is indisposed: broke his leg recently. The reward for a successful run is huge.

Brett gives a quick, economical setup, and moves his young hero out into the wilds with a crusty old Messenger, probably making his last run and planning on retiring into alcoholic obscurity with his share of the fee.

What goes wrong? You name it: bandits, treachery, wind demons, fire demons, rock demons and, eventually, the snow demon that set off the whole avalanche of the story. Is there a fair maiden? Of course there is a fair maiden. Does Arlen win her heart? That would be telling. And also assuming that he even wants to, or that her heart is there to be won, which it’s not necessarily. This is a twenty-first century fantasy after all.

Brayan’s Gold was fun; I knocked it out in an afternoon. The magic system is nifty, the action is fast and occasionally furious, the setting is plausible enough as these things go. I’m glad friend Matt convinced the author not to pass up the chance to write about snow demons.

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