The Hob's Bargain - Patricia Briggs Unfulfilled Fantasy Potential

Aren has been married to Daryn all of one day when raiders appear, killing her entire family. She feels guilty, knowing she had the sight, and might have been able to save them had she not been so busy hiding her ability from those that would kill her. Now, she must find a way to get rid of the raiders and the magical creatures that have suddenly appeared.

I adore Patricia Briggs. The first book of hers I read, “Steal the Dragon”, completely captivated me. It was exciting, adventurous, and romantic, all without being clichéd and stupid. That book made her a “buy on the spot” author—one of only two on the list.

For whatever reason, I’ve been in the mood for some nice, fun fantasy—nothing too “meaty” or “epic”. So that’s why I reached out for Briggs’ “Hob’s Bargain”. And I felt I got much less than I “bargained” for.

What went wrong? If I had to come up with one word to describe this experience, it would be “boring”. This fantasy is the antithesis of what I think a fantasy should be. Fantasy should be fun, exciting, a learning of new magic and a land of wonders and new characters. Sure, there were cool characters or interesting magic, but when they are bathed in boringness, it’s hard to generate any interest in finishing a novel.

Now that I’ve finished (a feat in and of itself!), I almost felt like there were three story ideas slammed into one novel. The first part was “Raiders Attack and Kill the Family, Leading to a Journey”; then the novel turned into “Learn about the Magic that You Suddenly Are Able to Use”; rounding out with “Epic Battle Show Down with the Bloodmage that Comes from Nowhere”, sprinkled in the later half with “Fall in Love with the Ugly Guy”. Perhaps if it had stuck to one storyline, I would have been able to like this (I did like it when Aren started learning new magic, and the concept was pretty interesting).

The first part was solid. I liked our protagonist’s introduction (even if the first person past was a slight surprise—books from this early era tended to be written in third person past), how she is in her late 20’s but married (happily) a much younger man. The raider attack was intense, the pain of losing her family heartrending. But then Aren declares her ability to the townspeople, runs back to her cottage and sits in a cellar for a week. I don’t quite understand the motivation behind her actions. I know she promised to tell people about her ability if something bad happened, but then why leave and go to the cottage and do nothing with this ability? If she was brave enough to declare her ability, why not also go into the fight? I know people need to mourn, but it just felt awkward.

After her “mourning”, she gets out and seeks to investigate the nearby villages to see if there are survivors. Wait, so all it takes is a week in a cellar, and she is okay, no emotional scars, nada? When they arrive at the nearby town, Aren, her friend, Kith, and the minstrel, Wandel, learn the town has been devastated. Apparently, someone performed uber-magic and has decimated the area and released the area from the bloodmage’s binding. What?? What about the raiders? Where have they gone? You’ve been hiding in a cellar for a week, come out, and then instead of doing something about the raiders, you look into a completely different event? Does this make any sense? And what is with the short sections in third person past from the point of view from the hob?

They escort the people back to Fallbrook then BAM! A few months later! So…they did NOTHING about the raiders in the intervening months? Really? The men of the town didn’t bother to band together and attack these guys? Apparently not—instead, Aren is going on patrols, doing manly things because, well, that’s acceptable for her now. What happened so that Aren could get these advantages? Was it just her abilities? Was it the fact she was now an outsider? Why is such a long gap even in this book? What does it give the story?

For some reason, NOW Aren must find a way to get rid of the raiders (and some fae beings that have popped out of nowhere). So she gets the idea: Hob’s Mountain! The Hob! You know, the guy in the title that has BARELY appeared in this novel. He could help them. He helped her ONCE before when fighting a fae, so of COURSE he could help against MANY raiders. D’OH! She runs her horse into the mountain and BAM! There he is. Whew, good thing he wasn’t hard to find or anything! It’s a mountain after all—a small area to hunt over. She barely has to convince him to help when he is off, racing along to tease and confuse the raiders. But the villagers must seal the deal with a bargain: a woman must marry the hob and the hob will help.

Finally! It’s past the halfway point through the book, and we are at the “Hob’s Bargain” that the title promised us!

Aren promises to marry the hob in exchange for his help and then…nothing happens. Yup, they don’t decide to band together to defeat the raiders. Instead, the Hob takes her home to see his “mom” (the mountain spirit). Then he teaches her a new ability that she develops rather quickly, all the while the raiders are still in hiding, and NO ONE IS ATTACKING THEM. These are the most laid-back villagers EVER.

But Aren and the Hob, named Caefawn, have plenty of time for Meaningful Glances, Witty Banter, and Playful Jesting. I’ll pause from my snarking to admit: I actually liked the idea of Aren pairing up with a guy who doesn’t have marble abs, amber eyes, and an Adonis profile. However, the romance part of it came in too little, too late. The hob has barely been in the novel. The romantic undertones are too muted and/or too forced (because there is SO little time left in the novel to build up the budding romance organically). And Aren pairing up with a non-human? Uhhhhh…

It’s at the 2/3 mark that a BRAND NEW plot comes riding in: Aren sees a bloodmage journeying to the village to take over Kith, a berserker in the King’s Army before he lost his arm. Aren has to save his life…so how can she defeat the bloodmage? She runs out, grabs the spirits of a bunch of fae…and does NOTHING with it. The big, final “showdown” is one of the most underwhelming in history (and something stupid ALMOST happens that made me facepalm).

It breaks my heart to give a Briggs book two stars, but I can’t justify three stars for this book even if it is written by one of my favorite authors. The book had a lot of potential, but it ultimately failed by getting bogged down in too many details and subplots and forgetting what the whole point of the story was supposed to be. Not Briggs’ best work; read “Steal the Dragon”, a much better fantasy novel or the Mercy Thompson series, her urban fantasy foray.

(And is it just me, or is there something, I don't know, AWKWARD about the reprint cover? Aren, looking like a cheap Cindy Crawford model, holding a...AHEM...)