Tag Archives: Lynn Flewelling

The Tamír Triad, by Lynn Flewelling

(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 TwinFirst edition cover

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.jpg book cover of   Hidden Warrior    (Tamir Triad, book 2)  by  Lynn Flewelling

Hidden Warrior

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.

Oracle's Queen Oracle's Queen.jpg

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.

The Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling

(This “review” was originally posted 4/11/2006 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has been edited, just a little, for  some coherency, spelling and grammar. It has NOT been edited for style, and it is blunt and tactless and appallingly unfluid. I apologise. Since I wrote this review, a fourth book has been added to the series, but I’m not talking about it here.)

 

This is not a trilogy.
This is not a trilogy.
This is not a trilogy.

- Lynn Flewelling.

The Nightrunner series, so far [as of 2006], consist of a duology and a “sequel“. Luck in the Shadows was released as far back as 1996, Stalking Darkness followed soon after in 1997, and Traitor’s Moon came out in 1999. I think she’s writing a fourth book at the moment. At least, I hope so. [Shadow's Return was published in 2008.]

Four nations lie on the coast of the Gathwyth Ocean. Mycena, Plenimar and Skala are inhabited by humans. Aurenan is the land of the Aurenfaie (generis elegantly humanlike otherly magical race). The stories and characters concern themselves, for the most part, with Skala and her relations with the other nations.

Luck in the Shadows (Nightrunner)

Luck in the Shadows

“When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things – none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is travelling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail…”

LitS is a good opening novel, for a series or for a duology. It introduces us to the two main characters, makes clear the differences between them and proceeds to develop those two characters without essentialising them. (I’ll talk more about characterisation a bit later in this review.) The plot rushes – and admittedly, sometimes it plods. The story alternates between the epic and the spy thriller feels. Flewelling’s prose is mostly functional, but her delivery is still fluid. I laughed, and I held my breath, and I worried.

LitS seems to merely set the stage for Stalking Darkness, but in its way it is as important as that, more epic-y, book. It introduces us to the Skalan capital of Rhiminee, glances back at vast portions of Skalan (and other) history, sets the main characters (and their supporting cast for us to follow them as they go about their nefarious/heroic deeds… and makes us understand where the priorities – the novels’, the characters’ – lie. It also raises the dual magic/political issues and concerns that Seregil (and therefore Alec) are immersed in.

All in all, it is an entertaining read, and is the sort of book you find yourself thinking about after you’re done reading it – Flewelling has a definite flavour of her very own.

Stalking Darkness (Nightrunner)Stalking Darkness

Stalking Darkness is both a good and a bad book. It makes a return to the darkness that Luck in the Shadows intermittently commits to, and brings its people forward and fleshes them out… If Luck in the Shadows was ultimately the political half of this duology, Stalking Darkness is entirely given to the magical, and the emotional. Our heroes must Save The World, etc.

There are problems with the book. For one thing, the pace of the novel plods a bit more than it rushes. (And where it rushes it’s in too much of a hurry.) Part of the reason why the pacing is so uneven is that the plot divides between the quest, and the characterisation. Flewelling is taking her time to ensure that all her characters – Alec, Seregil, the wizard Nysander, their friends Micum and Beka Cavish – are not token questors but rather have developed personalities that we would recognise even if they weren’t involved in the epic narrative (and some of them, in point of fact, aren’t). It’s only when I put the book down that I realised that, objectively, things were going rather slow. I didn’t mind it while I was reading – and I still don’t.

A lot of the novel is dedicated to Alec’s growth as a character and as a person – necessary both for the exigencies of the plot and also to ensure that he can at some point interact with Seregil as an emotional equal, however limited his years and experience. It is a gradual, subtle, and delightful unfolding, and it means that when and if he enters into a relationship with Seregil there will be little of the disturbing I-am-young-meat-in-bed-with-a-father-figure feeling that one sometimes gets with young/old romantic pairings. It’s good, and it’s great.

But Bad Things Happen in the last third of the novel. The text allows Seregil to be affected by them. However, Alec’s emotional involvement in those events are sidetracked in order to continue with the original mission statement. It’s in the text that Alec is not as affected as someone else who had been through the same experiences would be, and I find this disturbing, and even annoying. It’s almost like watching a Joss Whedon production: at times, the characters move at the speed of plot, rather than the speed of character.

It’s a small thing, taking up very few pages, but it disturbs me. A- instead of A.

Traitor's Moon (Nightrunner)

Traitor’s Moon

Traitor’s Moon takes place about two years after the events of Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness. As Flewelling states, you don’t need to read the previous two to understand what is happening here, though since she has two kids to put through college she’d rather you did. (Maybe they’ve graduated by now?)

Skala is in the middle of war with Plenimar, and she is losing. Alec and Seregil accompany a diplomatic mission to Aurenen, Seregil’s childhood home, negotiating for the things you negotiate for when you need aid in wartime, and there are complications, and skulduggery, and alien cultural misunderstandings, and dragons.

This latest novel marries the fantastic and the politic, carrying the plotlines forward side by side and often together. It’s not a fast paced novel, though I usually find detective fiction to proceed at its own speed, one that’s faster than I feel it to be.

Characterisation here is patchy. Alec and Seregil are beautifully handled. They are logically consistent within the novel and within the series. They are not static, they move forward at the speed of character and not of plot.

I have VERY big problems with women who decide that they do not want to be attracted to/do not want to fall in love with a particular man whom they meet near the opening of the novel before they get to know the man in question. I don’t care how that particular plotline turns out, whether they never do anything, shag like monkeys, fall in love, stay friends, become enemies – make up the combination of your choice. I don’t like that “I don’t want to” moment. It puts me off. It has ruined Beka Cavish – a fairly pivotal supporting character – for me, and makes me want to say bad things about what was done with her. I’ll confine myself to liking her role as a person and within the exigencies of the plot, and her heart and her uninteresting man can both go hang. (Aren’t I a lovely objective reviewer?)

<clears throat> To put it bluntly: If I like what was done with our main characters, who are, after all, the only people we are ultimately concerned with, I still think that the supporting characters (those who will recur through the series and who appeared only in this novel) lacked a certain depth. The antagonising characters are drawn with a bold, complicated, you-think-you-know pen, and I love the shifting intricacies of the plot and the society our heroes find themselves in.

I’m a sucker for a poignant ending, and for new beginnings. Traitor’s Moon gives me both.

There’s good dialogue in these books (she even manages a bearable “I shall give you history” conversation). There’s a well-developed world, with a layered history and layered peoples. There’s an interesting story, and interesting heroes – who will not stay static but will grow, and change, and live (there’s some lovely foreshadowing going on in Traitor’s Moon). There’s a war – we all know those work out fine. There’s darkness, and light.

What do you sacrifice? Well, the prose is not really going to be more than functional. Every so often the supporting cast will look a bit fuzzy. Sometimes there will be quest-travelling.

Try Flewelling. You might find she’s worth it.

EDIT: Luck in the Shadows, I have just rediscovered, has a very short, and very bad, prologue. I must have suppressed it to recover from the trauma.

It is very short, though, so I survived.