When preeminent SF/Fantasy publisher Tor Books was rolling out their dangerously addicting new community at tor.com, they offered a truly ridiculous number of free ebooks as enticements to come check it out. I dutifully ferreted them all away and loaded a stack of them onto my Palm LifeDrive. This is the first one I’ve read.

It’s the first book of the “Long Price Quartet” (nobody ever said the folks at Tor weren’t savvy). The first section is set in an orphanage/school for the unwanted younger sons of noble families. But the school’s workings are just odd enough to distinguish them from those of every other such setting in the history of fantasy literature. The school section turns out to be mostly a prologue as the second section leaps ahead by many years and initially follows an unexpected character from the opening.

While the setting of the later sections of the book is reminiscent of many other such fantasy worlds in its broad strokes (I kept being reminded of Delany’s Nevèrÿon in particular), again, the details distinguish it. And I am loath to be more specific because much of the pleasure of the book is in having your expectations repeatedly tweaked. I’ll just say that the overall story is one of court intrigue and coming of age all set in a world of ubiquitous and varied human (and inhuman) (and inhumane) bondage (and not the fun sexy kind).

While I enjoyed the book, I was a little frustrated with the plot and pacing. It felt like not quite enough events stretched across a little too much book. Still, the rotating point of view characters were all interesting enough to keep me paging along. I’ll probably give the second book a try next time there’s a gap in the queue.