Let’s Be Friends
Tuyo (Tuyo, volume 1)
By Rachel Neumeier
2020’s Tuyo is the first volume of Rachel Neumeier’s seven-book (so far) Tuyo secondary-world fantasy series.
Warleader Garoya of one of the Ugaro clans had thought it would be easy to raid the Lau; it wasn’t. The raiders must retreat. Garoya leaves his younger brother Ryo behind, as a tuyo. A tuyo is a prisoner handed over the enemy as a sacrifice.
Ryo is tied to a stake and left for the Lau.
Lord Aras of the Lau has greater need of information than he does of a corpse. He takes Ryo prisoner and interrogates him at length. To protect Ryo from the legal consequences of raiding, Lord Aras makes Ryo a guest, something that carries profound legal implications for the Lau. The two men end up being something like friends.
Lord Aras, of the settled, agricultural and urbanized Lau, needs to know more about the Ugaro nomads. The Ugaro live in cold regions unsuitable for Lau-style agriculture; they trade with the Lau for the grain that they need. Lau along the border have inexplicably raised the price of grain and the Ugaro, desperate, have taken to raiding.
The Lau do have a number of advantages. Firstly, they are adept at coordinated unit tactics, which the Ugaro see as an admission of cowardice and weakness. Ugaro who can be tempted to abandon hit and run tactics for a standup fight fare poorly. As well, the Lau use magic. Whereas the Ugaro kill anyone who uses magic, believing all magic to be sorcery, the Lau take a more nuanced view of magic. Half of the Lau can use magic to some degree, and only a few of them are the existential threats known as sorcerers. Magic is just too useful to give up over the poor behavior of a small minority.
Lord Aras comes to believe that the border problems are being manipulated by a sorcerer tampering with people’s minds. The sorcerer cannot be a nomad, hence must be Lau, working against his own people for some secret goal. Lord Aras compiles a list of aristocrats who might benefit from border clashes, then investigates to see which of them are pawns and which of them is the actual sorcerer.
Further problems arise. The sorcerer (whoever he is) learns of the investigation and strikes first. Were this not alarming enough, Ryo becomes aware that Lord Aras can read his mind and therefore must be a sorcerer himself. Which makes him anathema to any right-thinking Ugaro nomad. What is Ryo to do?
Clarification: sorcery is mind-magic: mind-control, memory altering, all that fun stuff. Not all sorcerers are evil but the ones who are are very memorable.
Some readers may expect that any two men who start off as enemies and then become friends may end up as … more than friends. Lord Aras and Ryo are just friends. Given that they start off on opposite sides of a border war, that’s not a small thing.
Ryo and his kin may come across as rather blinkered by their cultural values. They are, something underlined by the fact the story is narrated from Ryo’s perspective. However, they are also quite adept at surviving in their home environment, a region that is effectively uninhabitable to the agricultural Lau.
Because the Lau tolerate magic, they are forced to support a cadre of investigators who are always on the lookout for malevolent sorcerers. It also happens that sometimes the empire falls under the sway of particularly powerful sorcerers. But there are upsides to magic toleration: the Lau are more able to resist sorcerers than the Ugaro and they do not need to kill the fifty percent of the population who have some degree of magical ability. Perhaps as a result of such policies, their average lifespans appear to be significantly longer than those of the nomads. Ryo is only nineteen and of his seven brothers, four are already dead.
I thought Tuyo was a bit long for its plot, and the antagonist a bit too off-handedly sadistic. Perhaps the difference between good sorcerers and bad ones may come down to the ability to reject self-indulgence in favour of the greater good. Nevertheless, it was a suitably thrilling adventure, and amusing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
This book is the first in a series that already stretches to seven books. Rachel Neumeier, the author, has also published thirty-three other books on Amazon. To see her full output, I had to visit Amazon; ISFDB does not appear to be able to keep up with her. I can’t speak for her other books, but I thought this book was a good-enough pleasure read.
Tuyo is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Book Depository). I did not find it at either Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo. That’s what one might expect when the author has an exclusive arrangement with Amazon.