Series: Tamir Triad
Published by Random House, Spectra on October 21, 2009
Sometimes the price of destiny is higher than anyone imagined....
Dark Magic, Hidden Destiny
For three centuries a divine prophecy and a line of warrior queens protected Skala. But the people grew complacent and Erius, a usurper king, claimed his young half sister’s throne.
Now plague and drought stalk the land, war with Skala’s ancient rival Plenimar drains the country’s lifeblood, and to be born female into the royal line has become a death sentence as the king fights to ensure the succession of his only heir, a son. For King Erius the greatest threat comes from his own line — and from Illior’s faithful, who spread the Oracle’s words to a doubting populace.
As noblewomen young and old perish mysteriously, the king’s nephew — his sister’s only child — grows toward manhood. But unbeknownst to the king or the boy, strange, haunted Tobin is the princess’s daughter, given male form by a dark magic to protect her until she can claim her rightful destiny.
Only Tobin’s noble father, two wizards of Illior, and an outlawed forest witch know the truth. Only they can protect young Tobin from a king’s wrath, a mother’s madness, and the terrifying rage of her brother’s demon spirit, determined to avenge his brutal murder....
It’s rare to come across an Epic Fantasy novel that breaks out of the Tolkien mold. (Seriously, there wasn’t even one drinking song (that’s a win for everyone) and forget Elves and Dwarves.) The Bone Doll’s Twin not only breaks the mold, but manages to create something unique and new. I imagine that this book is what you would get if Game of Thrones and Wuthering Heights had a lovechild.
Described by the author as “Gothic Fantasy,” the story revolves around a princess whose very gender has to be hidden because of her royal blood and the King’s obsession with killing off any female heirs to the throne. (In the world Skala, a prophecy declares that the kingdom will prosper only as long as a true Queen of Skala rules, so you can understand King Erius’, who is also the princess’s uncle, preoccupation with pruning the family tree of female children.) While the hidden heir plot is common in Fantasy, Flewelling’s manner of hiding the child brings a fresh take to this overdone plot.
The magic used to accomplish the disguise requires the sacrifice of the princess’s twin brother, who is killed at birth, so that the princess can take on his outward appearance. There is a mishap (what’s a good plot without a mishap?) that causes Brother (the only name he’s ever given) to be bound to his twin sister. This one mishap is the root cause of several other tragic events that will befall Tobin (the hidden princess) and her family. It traps Brother to the earth and as he and Tobin age he becomes stronger and more vindictive.
Gender and identity is a theme throughout the trilogy, but doesn’t overwhelm the story. Through Tobin, who later becomes Tamir, the reader explores what it is to lose your identity and whether or not gender changes the core essence of your identity. Tobin is one of the most empathetic characters I’ve come across in a long time. He’s easy to sympathize with and I found myself wanting him to have an easy time of it, even though it would have made for poor reading if there weren’t trials and conflict.
Ki, Tobin’s squire, is one of my favorite characters. He’s snarky, loyal, adventurous and Tobin’s best friend. Some of my favorite scenes in the trilogy are those from Ki’s point of view. One of the things that made Tobin’s transformation to Tamir so interesting is Ki’s struggle with the change. Some truly beautiful scenes revolve around this conflict.
The author does an excellent job of character development and not just that of the heroes. The villains are three dimensional rather than gross caricatures of evil. One of the most interesting characters to me was the lead Wizard Harrier Niryn who has the King’s ear. A nod to Tolkien’s Wormtongue, Niryn is the power behind the throne whose desire is to accumulate even more power. His back story is quite compelling. While I understood and even sympathized with his childhood, I wasn’t able to like him because of the horrific acts he routinely performed (this mirrors much of my feelings about Lord Voldemort’s childhood in the Harry Potter series). It’s easy, or should be, to make a reader sympathize with the hero, but to do the same with a villain takes some truly epic writing skills.
On the other side of this, the good guys are not always good regardless of their intentions. The wizards Iya and Arkonial, along with the witch Lhel, are responsible for the magic hiding Tobin. This also means they’re responsible for Brother’s murder. This is a case where heroes perform an act, usually reserved for villains, for the very best of intentions, a whole “the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.” Watching their struggle with the ramifications of this act brings added depth to the plot.
One of the main themes throughout the Tamir Trilogy is whether or not the ends can ever fully justify the means. Something that the author leaves you to ponder throughout the trilogy, but refuses to spoon feed you the “correct” answer.
My only complaint with The Bone Doll’s Twin is that it leaves off at a cliffhanger. We’re literally left wondering if one of the central characters would be dead by the next volume. (I’d like to make a note that the author has no problem killing off main characters.) It’s a small complaint because all three books are out so I was able to immediately begin The Hidden Warrior. (Not sure I would have survived if the sequel hadn’t already been published.)
I loved the entire triad! The writing was beautifully executed and the world building was top notch. The characters are sympathetic and fleshed out. The best part about finishing this trilogy is that I can visit the world of Skala again in the Nightrunner series (a series that takes place in the same world, but during a future time period and with new characters). There isn’t anyone I wouldn’t recommend this book or triad to.