The foul-mouthed, half-human thief known (jokingly) as Breed encounters a demon after escaping from a dragon, returns home to assassination attempts, is imprisoned and then released into a well-meant but deeply inconvenient slavery spell. Breed ends up travelling with a soppy priest, a disgusting beggar and a rat-faced girl, searching for a powerful relic belonging to a legendary hero. Even as Breed tries to escape from all enemies, allies and responsibilities things get more complicated and deadly as prophecy and politics guide events.
This story is told entirely from Breed's own irreverent, cynical point of view, and though the character largely resists affection or sympathy they are mostly very amusing. The action is quick-paced with Breed running, falling and sometimes being bundled into further adventure. They are a reluctant hero insofar as being heroic, preferring self-preservation over noble action, but Breed isn't slow to get into a fight and has been raised by a deranged crime boss as a thief, fighter and partial magic-user. Breed is an interesting hero in many ways, half-human and half-thoasa (a lizard-type warspawn) with orange scales, spikes, seven-toed feet that don't fit into human shoes and senses that humans can't match. Everything is told through Breed's viewpoint, so there's a lot about the character and the world that is left to the reader to figure out, which makes for an absorbing read. The world we see through Breed's eyes is grimy and soiled with all manner of unpleasantness. This is worldbuilding from the lowest levels, and while the story contains a strong sense of history, with a past that sounds like pure epic fantasy, there's a definite subterranean theme to the locations. Sewers, caves and tombs feature prominently in the story, as do street-level criminals and regular common folk. When the action takes place in loftier, more respectable venues such as courtrooms and temples that's when things seem likely to take a turn for the worse.
While the story is fast-paced, action-packed and fun this book is not a only an adventure. There's a theme of exploring inequality within the story too, but it's handled subtly, present but not overpowering. Breed's mixed parentage means people make certain assumptions, and for the most part the character is used to it and doesn't seem to care, but this comes off as being jaded. It's clear that humans occupy the positions of power in this world and those like Breed who aren't fully -or at all human- are subject to suspicion and often pushed to the margins of society. There are humans who don't have a problem with non-humans, but they seem to be the exception. The broader plot of the book makes the scale of prejudice explicit. The non-human characters who are doing well are either involved in organised crime or are in underground communities. As in Davies' earlier book (The Red Knight, which is also a good read) the supporting cast contains a lot more women than is common in secondary world fantasy and there's no sign of traditional or assumed gender roles. There are female guards, magistrates and criminals scattered throughout the background, with no indication that a person's gender might affect such things. It's sort of sad that such a simple thing still feels noteworthy. There's a scene with one of the antagonists that inverts the gender roles of a common trope in fiction, dealing with it in a more nuanced manner than is often seen and thus highlighting the issues with the usual approach.
Breed is a fun, engrossing read which is amusing and makes you think, but doesn't hit you over the head with what it's trying to do. Definitely recommended for fans of epic and comic fantasy.