(This “review” was originally posted 8/29/2006 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found atRAFO.] It has been edited, just a little, for some coherency, spelling and grammar. It has been edited a VERY LITTLE for style, and it is blunt and tactless and appallingly unfluid. I apologise.)
Lynn Flewelling is one of those authors I never seem to hear about in casual conversation, and I’d go so far as to say that she’s low-key – she doesn’t have her own website, merely one of those two-page dinky things on sff.net. But she gets (for the most part) good reviews, and the people who read her books, like her a great deal. [Actually, she has a blog at LJ, which she updates fairly frequently, as I found out sometime later. Not only was I tactless back then, I wasn't doing my research. And the website is not dinky.]
In The Tamír Triad, composed of The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior and The Oracle’s Queen, Flewelling gives us the land of Skala, ruled for generations by Queens who literally do have the Divine Right – in fact, the god in question goes so far as to deny Skala peace and sovereignty unless a woman is on the throne.
The Bone Doll’s Twin
And so it goes, until a prince usurps what should have been his sister’s throne, proceeds to murder all his female relatives (except for his sister, which frankly still bothers me) and commits sundry other atrocities, up to and including the persecution of the Illorian wizards.
In due course of things, the sister gives birth to children – a girl, and a boy who dies after his first breath. Concerned wizards who want the Queens to rule again disguise the girl as a boy – magic is used to change the child’s gender so that she displays male genitalia. Prince Tobin grows up thinking of himself – and why not? – as a boy.
These are just the first three chapters of The Bone Doll’s Twin.
One of the things I find interesting is that Flewelling doesn’t beat around the bush in letting us know (by chapter six) whether Tobin ultimately becomes ruler or not. I mean, the reader is clearly told (in the “There was a dog. It died” sense). But it’s still interesting, still fascinating and a lot of that is due to Flewelling’s surprisingly good YA narration. (If you read the Bantam Spectra blurb you wouldn’t have had high hopes for the novel. It’s terrible, even for a blurb.)
Another interesting thing is that – and yes, it happens a lot, but here it seems more obvious – in some ways, reading The Tamír Triad is like reading part (v) of Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings. You know. Aragorn’s important – very important – but he’s still just one part of the narrative. Of the story. Important, close to central – but not actually central, per se. He’s not the most important part. But when you get to Appendix A (v), you’re reading his story, and he’s the most important person in it.
The Tamír Triad is about Tobin (I still think of him/her as Tobin, though s/he wouldn’t like that) and there’s a larger – epic – framework that the reader is given glimpses of, and there’s the obvious beginnings of a new chapter in that framework that are again not directly about Tobin – but this is Tobin’s story and everything else is peripheral. There’s a very This-is-the-nail-the-horse-shouldn’t-lose feeling to it all, for me.
The Bone Doll’s Twin is a good read – and a very good reread. tBDT follows Tobin’s life up to adolescence. Flewelling puts some children through your usual levels of child abuse and actually makes it a) believable b) emotionally compellingly gut-wrenching and then gives you fairly normal children to balance it out. It’s nicely paced – I know that it’s nicely paced because I didn’t think about pacing at all while I was reading it – and ends on a good suspensey note.
If tBDT has any major flaws, they would be the adult wizards. Much conspirating is going on, and not all of it is about Tobin (though of course, once she gets on the throne everyone expects that manna shall fall from heaven and conspirators everywhere shall go into retirement) – and the Wizard/s doing all this work aren’t quite interesting enough to be remembered. In fact, by the time I’d got around to my reread (so that I could read HW and tOQ) I’d forgotten most of the peripheral plot. They’re not boring. They’re just not as interesting or memorable or heartstringtugging.
As an opening novel, tBDT is good. Not GRRM/Erikson/Jordan/pick good writer here great, but still an I-am-nit-picking-to-find-bad-things novel.
Hidden Warrior explores, lessee. Responsibilities of conspirating, fruits of various conspiratings, Tobin and his/her raging but suppressed sexuality – and Flewelling allows a lot of the deeper aspects of that sort of issue to be addressed only in the various basics, and allows a lot of it to be seen in just glimpses, so there’s not much angsting, but at the same time there’s a lot of angsting – the wonderful mechanics of sex and sexual longing in mixed company – and the constant threat of this, that and the other. Tobin is threatened from all angles, and disclosure is only one of the things s/he has to fear. Tobin and company grow, the peripheral plot takes its tottering steps to being in the phase 1 and a bit, war and stuff happen, Tobin and some of his company are cool –
I think what HW does is take Tobin from cool-child-with-potential to Okay, s/he was worth the trouble. The same goes for various subplots.
I like the closing. If it weren’t for a few lose ends, in some ways I would even say that it was okay to not read book 3. HW satisfies very nicely.
The Oracle’s Queen
The Oracle’s Queen, sadly, is not up to par. It’s still not a bad novel, but it doesn’t have quite the pull or the intelligence or the things-to-discuss of the previous two novels.
It begins fairly decently and handles some of the gender issues that crop up now with grit though not necessarily panache. There are some very quick tying-up-of-loose ends, and a mildly neat solution to what, in HW, had seemed a very bad idea, by the introduction of a new character – a sadly two-dimensional one, but at least it fits the purpose.
tOQ focuses all the subplots in one area so you can follow them, allows the reader to see how two mentor-characters have sneakily made themselves very cool in different ways, and ends the saga very very neatly – and there’s a nice tie-in to Flewelling’s Nightrunner books [which I later discovered were mostly written first, and mention the basic Tamír premise in the first book].
Tobin and his/her various relationships evolve/grow/make the reader empathise etc. But tOC has some horrible flaws, too. For one thing, at some point what I considered some fairly important gender issues are simply thrown out the window with some gen(d)eric deux ex machina. (Without the deux.) And if there’s something interesting to be said about a boy-who’s-really-a-girl, there’s a great deal to be said about women who are warriors, and there are so many of them in this novel, and all of them are to a girl girly. I’m not asking for leather and spikes. But… they’re all feminine. Frills. It would have been nice to have at least one who went, Well yeah frills are okay, but I prefer my pants. (Jordan haters will recognise my frustration.) There’s some very patchy characterisation re: Ki, Tobin’s squire, friend and companion, who for some reason seems to be the only one who has trouble with various things that everyone else in the world has no trouble dealing with. Both of which I find odd and annoying.
And the last sixty or so pages are so crowded with Things That Happened that it’s ludicrous. The pacing is rushed – literally – with almost no time for any form of digestion of what is happening, and far too much flat narration that doesn’t in any way evoke any sort of emotion beyond “Where did the rest of the narrative go?” I mean, truly, some very important things happen coming up to the climax and Flewelling narrates them as though they’re of no importance whatsoever. (I reread bits of Tolkien yesterday and maybe that’s why I’m thinking of something similar that he made happen that he handled much better – and that wasn’t one of his better moments.) Vast problems that nobody knew what to do about are snipped through in a matter of paragraphs and nobody reacts as much as they should be. The cleaning up of last threads looks a bit like the author thought, Oh gods, when will it end?
It’s extremely unsatisfying, tOQ. Especially since so much of the bad things happen near the end, which is the bit I remember most.
To be fair, it’s not a bad book. It depicts a great deal of social/political change, upheavals and beginnings. (And one nice insult.) But it’s not as good as the first two. I wonder what it might have been like if Flewelling had taken more – or less? – time over it.
Overall? Read The Tamír Triad. Tis nice, interesting, has many curious parallels and contradictions to make one go hmmmm – and lots of different sorts of magic and some very very cute pseudo-dragons.
EDIT: Because accents are cute and I forgot them the first time around.