Ill Met in the Arena (2008) is a standalone SF novel. It is set on a world orbiting a blue star. A smaller white sun follows in the same orbit, but sixty degrees behind. Aureity is the major continent on the planet. It is divided into seven hegemonies.
Since ancient times, the people of Aureity have been breed for psionic talents. Noble men can teleport, levitate themselves and move objects with their minds. Noble women can sense and influence the minds of others.
Some time ago, women had become the rulers on Auriety. Some small pockets of male rule still exist, but all the major powers have women at the helm. Among the nobility, males have subordinate roles and are acquired as consorts and champions of the females.
The main testing grounds for males are the arenas. Young males with psionic powers compete among themselves for prizes and for offers from the agents of powerful women. Newcomers to the arenas start in the bronze circuit and work their way up to the silver contests. Now and then, the best duelists are invited to compete in gold tourneys.
In this novel, Quirt of Mundil is the pseudonym of Mudar of Quoin. He has been unnamed by his Hegemon and doomed to find the killer of his lover. He has been searching for the murderer for two pentads -- about eight years -- without success. But now he had found the man and is fulfilling his doom to bring the killer to justice.
Hyla is the mother of Mudar. She has been lost in a world of her own since being poisoned and raped many years ago. Yet her world plays around her in illusions of past events.
Humate of Alfer is the son of Pelta of Pelagic, a Hegemon. He has raw power, but no experience and little skill. In arena terms, he is a baby dragon.
In this story, Quirt is competing in the bronze circuit to eventually gain an invitation to a gold tourney. Under his real name, he had been a well-known winner in the silver circuit. Now he is trying to win a bronze crown at Bere Parochian.
When he arrives at the arena, his manager informs Quirt that a baby dragon is competing in the tourney. She tells him that Humate was admitted to the contest as a blank -- an undeclared duelist -- as is proper for a cub of the hegemonic class. Yet he has accidentally let slip his real identity and now other duelists are removing themselves from the game.
Quirt convinces his manager to let him remain in the contest. Then he has to do the same for the games marshal. They understand that he has much more experience and might have a few surprises for Humate. Quirt wins that tourney by guile and Hamate's panic.
Quirt also encounters Humate at the next bronze tourney and conspires to teach him some manners. They have a preliminary round in which Humate finds himself unable to win. Then Quirt and Humate have a little conversation.
Quirt explains his existence as the by-blow of a rapist. Then he tells of the death of his lover. Finally, he tells Humate the identity of the rapist and killer.
This tale reads somewhat like Hamlet. But his Hegemon has forced Quirt to look for the rapist and killer. He has little choice in the matter.
The author has written many fantasy stories. Yet he gives a scientific rationale for this tale. No magic is involved. So this work is another example of an SF story using a fantasy theme.
The story has twists and turns, surprise after surprise, until the final chapter. Quirt's life is threatened many times. Read and enjoy!
Highly recommended for Duncan fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of psionic powers, dangerous pursuits, and true romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin