This book was a prequel to the first book in the trilogy, The Anvil of the World. Whenever I hear that a series has a prequel, my first question is always: Should I read the prequel first or should I read the books in the order they were published? In this case, I don’t think it matters too much, because the stories are only loosely related. However, I would lean toward reading this book, the prequel, first. The prequel centers around two characters who aren't seen much in The Anvil of the World, but who have a major underlying influence on some of the characters in that story. I think their relevance in The Anvil of the World could be better appreciated with the knowledge about them gathered from this book, The House of the Stag, and I can't think of anything that would be spoiled by reading the prequel first.
Whereas the first book was funny but occasionally a little too silly, this book didn’t have that much humor. As a result, it never crossed the line into being too silly, so I think that’s one reason I enjoyed this book better than the first. I also just found the story in general to be more entertaining. The story is about two different orphans. One orphan, an abandoned half-demon, is raised by the Yendri (the sort-of elf-like race) but is cast out when he gets older and becomes enslaved to demons and mages. The other orphan, a Yendri whose parentage is never really explained for certain, is the “promised child” of the Yendri. She is very gifted and wise, but her people are not very good at understanding her or following her directions even while they revere her. The girl is born after the boy is cast out, but the stories of the two characters merge closer to the end.
The half-demon orphan is perhaps a bit of a cliché – a young boy with uncertain parentage has latent powers, doesn’t fit in with his people, endures hardships, etc. However, I found him interesting in spite of that. I don’t mind clichés too much as long as they’re done well and don’t feel too much like other things I’ve read. There was a point near the climax where he seemed curiously incapable of mounting a proper defense given the powers he had exhibited previously. This wasn’t explained at all, so it felt like a cheat in order to build drama.
The young girl, in her role of promised child, may be a little bit of a cliché as well. However, her interaction with her people was interesting to me. There she is, living among her people, known for who she is, clearly capable of fulfilling the role she’s expected to fulfil, and speaking as plainly as she possibly can so her people know and understand what she wants them to do. And yet the very people who say they want to follow her continuously go astray in major ways. I would have liked it if the author had taken us inside the mind of one of the characters who most often rejected her teachings so we could better understand his perspective.
So overall I enjoyed the book, although it wasn’t perfect. The ending was good, without any of the oddness that accompanied the end of the first book, and it ended with things nicely set up for the subsequent events that take place in the first book.