Wheel of the Infinite - Martha Wells

First off, for those readers who care about this sort of thing - this is a stand-alone novel, not the first part of a trilogy or longer series. Yes, people used to write those, though they've always been vanishingly rare in comparison...

 

Wheel of the Infinite is about a society where ritual plays a very large part in the literal remaking of the world around them - the eponymous Wheel is a massive sand painting which is remade for the end of each ritual cycle and by being remade keeps the world from being unmade. So, for example, when one time the Wheel showed there was no passageway through a particular set of straits, those straits and the lands around them literally ceased to exist.

 

The main character of our story is Maskelle, who has been summoned back to assist with a problem around this year's set of rites. When we first meet her, she is travelling with a theatre troupe who are slogging their way through the mud, which we soon discover is far from usual for people like her. As well as being a middle-aged woman, which is relatively unusual for a fantasy main character, Maskelle has the less unusual trait of being someone who can't help sticking her nose in other people's business and ends up rescuing one of the other main characters (Rian, an itinerant swordsman) as a result.

 

When they arrive in the temple, Maskelle has already told us why she left years earlier - she had been led astray by a false vision and killed her husband, after the prophecy insisted that if his son became emperor, disaster would follow. Now, as the Wheel is being remade, a dark patch keeps appearing on it and can't be removed successfully, so perhaps Maskelle has some ideas? It turns out that she does, though it's safe to say that things go from bad to very much worse before matters resolve themselves.

 

As with this author's Raksura books, the world-building is excellent in all aspects, and there are also a few twists and turns in the plot to keep it interesting. So, if you're looking for stand-alone fantasy, Wheel of the Infinite might just fit the bill!