1989’s Delan the Mislaid is the first volume in Laurie J. Marks’ The Children of the Triad trilogy.
The large and ungainly Delan has always been a poorly tolerated, genderless freak. When Teksan offers to buy Delan from the isolated Walker community that he calls home, the Walkers are more than happy to accept.
Slaving for Teksan is an unappealing prospect. So is remaining in a village that sees Delan as either a burden or a commodity. It would seem that life is going to offer Delan very few favours.
Teksan is a cruel and exacting taskmaster. He’s also a sorcerer, as Delan discovers when investigating Teksan’s secret sanctum. (The servant may be clumsy of body, but there is nothing wrong with their mind.) What Delan finds suggests that sorcery is a dark art sensible people would do well to avoid.
In addition to being cruel and sorcerous, Teksan is also a bigot. Four intelligent species share this world; Teksan despises the three that he is not. He reserves particular ire for the Aeyries, flying hermaphrodites whom he believes to enjoy the wealth and power that should be Teksan’s.
Aeyries live in isolated communities high in the mountains. They would seem to be safe against sorcerous schemes. But Teksan has a cunning plan. It involves Delan.
What Teksan knows but Delan does not is that Delan is not a deformed Walker. Delan is an immature Aeyrie flyer whose egg somehow ended up in a Walker community. Were Delan to appeal to an Aeyrie stronghold for help, Delan would be admitted. Once inside, Delan could let Teksan and a party of heavily armed warriors into the stronghold!
Of course, perhaps Delan might not want to betray kin whose existence they have only just discovered. No worries! Delan’s preference need play no role at all in their actions. Teksan’s dark arts can compel obedience from the most obstinate of victims.
Most secondary universes are populated by humans or their functional equivalent. This one is not. Walkers are not humans. They lay eggs, and they hibernate in winter. The other intelligent species even less like humans.
Teksan is willfully misinformed where the Aeyrie are concerned. They are not rich. They barely cling to survival; while they have mastered many arts, farming is not among them. They have knowledge Teksan lacks but in several cases, it is because Teksan refuses to believe anything that contradicts what he already thinks he knows.
Some books offer antagonists who are shades of gray, people whose misguided actions at least have sympathetic motivations. Not so Teksan. He is comprehensively sadistic and greedy. He’s the sort of gleefully cruel person who stamps a pet to death. It is not hugely surprising that the particular school of magic he belongs to is inherently malevolent.
As a consequence, this is a pretty unpleasant book. Poor Delan is abused by virtually everyone they meet. Even when encountering kindness and acceptance, it’s nigh impossible for Delan to accept they might have a place somewhere.
The book doesn’t revel in cruelty for its own sake like some HBO producer — Marks is going somewhere with Delan’s journey — but it’s certainly not fun to read.
Delan the Misplaced is less polished1 than Marks’ Elemental series but still, it has its strengths. Odd that I somehow managed to completely overlook the series until now.
Delan the Mislaid is out of print, which is not going to stop me from tracking down the rest of the trilogy.
1: An important manuscript makes its appearance in the plot in a way that suggests it has been mentioned earlier. Perhaps this earlier mention appeared in a previous draft, but it didn’t make it into the version that saw print.