I read a book of this series probably around 2000. I think the series was quite new then but not sure.

The main thing I remember about it is that magic is based on words of power. If you knew one word you got some extra ability, knowing two words gave you yet some other ability, and if you knew three words you became a very powerful wizard. Only one person at a time could know each word, and telling someone your word meant you died.

The main protagonist somehow gets hold of one word and then for some reason strives to learn more.

I think that I accidentally picked up the second book of the series and never read the first one. From what I remember, the protagonist learned one word of power and got some kind of supernatural ability (cannot remember what though). He then ends up in some kind of challenge where he has to cooperate with another person who knows another word that gives super-strength.

Not very coherent memories, but I hope someone knows what series it is. It has been bugging me for years. (Not even sure if the series is good at all, but still would like to know the name.)

I remember the world as being medieval-ish. I do not think there were dragons, but there may have been other humanoid races (I have a very weak recollection that there may have been an orc or similar in the story, but this could be completely wrong). The protagonist was male.

  • What kind of world was it (natural/contemporary, medieval like, did it have dragons or other mythical/mystical creatures)? Was the protagonist a male or female? I can't say I've read it, but may be able to find it with more detail.
    – Josh
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 13:21

5 Answers 5


After searching through all fantasy books released roughly around the right time in the catalogue of the library I used to go to back then I think I have identified the series as Dave Duncan's A Man of His Word.

I couldn't find any summary of the second book (Faery Lands Forlorn), but the summary of the first book seems to match my fragmented memories.

Guess I'll have to try and get hold of a copy to see if I'm right.

  • Given the summaries, not sure I would have ever made the connection myself. Glad you found it. Say, it looks like you find a decent review with a bit of a summary for the second book at the Amazon entry for Faery Lands Forlorn
    – Josh
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 17:10
  • Hehe, thanks for the link. In my defence, I was probably 15 or so when I read it so I will probably get a shock if I ever get hold of a copy.
    – Leo
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 17:16

I think this could be a (very) distorted remembering of The Wizard of EarthSea. Everything and everyone has a true name, and knowing the true name gives you power over it.

Edit to add: Regarding the learning one word of power and wanting to learn more, if I am correct this would be when Ged learns the word for Goats right at the beginning of the book.

  • Thanks for the answer! Unfortunately it is not the story I was thinking of.
    – Leo
    Commented Apr 14, 2012 at 17:54
  • Hmm, with the extra information in the question I'm afraid I have no idea which series it could be. Commented Apr 14, 2012 at 22:11

This is probably the one you are thinking of, The Cutting Edge by Dave Duncan, released in 1992 as the first book of the "Handful of Men" series and a continuation of the "A Man of His Word" series by the same author.

The year 3000 is approaching, and life continues as normal for most people. A few, however, are aware that the Protocol (the rules that determine how magic may be used) of the past thousand years is breaking down.

Shandie is battling the Caliph in Zark, and gains himself a new Signifier when Ylo saves the banner from falling. While they follow Imperial decrees and take the war to the elves, King Rap in Krasnegar receives a warning from the gods that he must lose one of his children. After his sun sees a vision of a legionary, he realizes that this has to do with the upcoming millennium, he sets out for Hub, the capital of the Impire, to speak with his friend the Imperor.

Thaïle, a Gifted pixie in mysterious Thume, stands Death Watch over a neighbor, and receives her first Word of power. This earns her interest from the College, and Jain arrives at her parents’ house to talk to Thaïle. He informs her she will be going to the College next year, and there is nothing she can do about it....

  • 7
    This question has an accepted answer that refers to another book. Can you explain why you think this is it?
    – Adamant
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 8:17
  • 1
    @Adamant: It looks like they're citing a different book by the same author.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 11:56

I remember the book you're talking about. As I recall, the main guy didn't even know he knew a special word in the beginning. A person with 2 words was called an Adept and nobody could handle more than 4 words (other than the protagonist at the end). He joined up with a rag tag group of people and on of them was actually 3 people joined into one body/consciousness. Very cool book!

It was called A Man of His Word or A Man and His Word. Loved the book and would like to read it again. I think I read it in the late 90's and tried to buy it again at a book store (BORDERS) a few years later but they said it was out of print and I would have to find it in a library or at a used book store. Hope this helps!


I think the book might be So You Want to Be a Wizard By Diane Duane. It is the first book in the Young Wizards series.

  • 4
    Sorry, but way wrong; it's off on all of the details Leo remembered; In SYWTBAW, knowing single words does nothing, to be even a modest wizard you have to learn a lot of the language, it's a common one (to some) which also eliminates the exclusivity idea for Words. No partner with super strength, takes place in the 'modern' era, not medieval, and the protagonist (Nita, short for Juanita) is not male (although she has a male partner most of the time, Kit.) On the other hand, thanks for mentioning them; the Young Wizard books are very enjoyable and good to spread info about :)
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:33

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