MEDALONA novel by Jennifer Fallon
(2000, TOR Books)
The Hythrun Chronicles: Demon Child Trilogy, book 1
A young woman and her brother become outcasts as they stand in the way of their ambitious mother, and discover the gods they don't believe in actually exist.
-- First reading (paperback)
An excellent novel, with a good story, extremely well developed characters, and a rich world to inhabit. My only complaints come from the constant back-and-forth movements of the characters, which didn't seem to be necessary, as if there were only two or three real places in this world, which I know is not true.Spoiler review:
There is a huge backstory to this novel, which is very well delivered. Two hundred years ago, the Sisterhood took over governing the lands of Medalon, and freed it of the Harshini, who are magical creatures created by the gods. The sisterhood preaches atheism, and rules through morality. Of course, with humans, this can only last so long. In the north, the realm of Karien bows to a single god, Xaphista. In the south, the Hythrun worship the old Harshini gods. But although the sisterhood has eradicated all pagan areas within its borders, there are still pagan believers, and their numbers are growing steadily. The Kariens demand another Purge, while Medalon constantly battles its southern borders.
What we learn through the story is that the pagan gods are real, but they have retreated from the world, like the Harshini, until the time is right for them to return. In that time, however, an incidental god, Xaphista, has gained so many believers that he has become as strong as the true elemental gods, and he wants to rule them. So the gods hatched a plan. The Harshini were created as pacifists, and are incapable of thinking about harming others, so they would never turn against their gods. Humans, of course, are full of violence, but have no magic. Hybrids, half-Harshini, half-human, on the other hand, are very dangerous, as they have magic and are capable of violence. Brak is one of these. He caught his great leader about to kill a human woman the leader had just raped. The leader had gone insane at what he had done, even though it was the gods' plan, and Brak killed him before he knew it was his beloved leader.
The child turns out to be the main character R'shiel. Orphaned at birth, she was taken in by Joyhinia, one of the Quorum members of the Sisterhood. R'shiel's origin was of course unknown. The character manipulations and interactions are complex, which is a delight. Suffice it to say that Joyhinia and R'shiel don't get along very well, even though R'shiel was the daughter Joyhinia always wanted. She doesn't get along with her son, Tarja, at all, though R'shiel completely adores her older half-brother. Joyhinia manages to alienate both of them, so that by the time she is crowned as First Sister, after manipulating to destroy and impeach the previous one, both R'shiel and Tarja have disappeared.
Tarja, an honored member of the Defenders, has always been rather lenient on the pagans. Others of his order hold similar views, which is why the pagan population is rising in numbers. When he discovers a small outpost, which he calls Treason Keep, that houses a pagan orphanage, he learns of R'shiel's true parentage, and the plot to sent R'shiel to the Kariens. For Xaphista knows that R'shiel is the Demon Child, and is determined to use her to his own purposes. The other gods, of course, want R'shiel to kill Xaphista.
R'shiel and Tarja travel the lands, and end up in league with the pagan worshipers, who are being hunted down by the Defenders under Joyhinia's rule. Tarja unwittingly learns more about the pagan gods than he ever knew, even coming face-to-face with a dragon, which are Harshini demons merged together, and then he meets a Harshini, thought to be long extinct.
Tarja is caught in a trap, and brought back to the Citadel. R'shiel goes back of her own accord, to confront Joyhinia. Both escape, but are caught again, then sent to the prison city. All the back-and-forth movement makes me wonder how many interesting locales actually exist. I didn't see the purpose in any of the back-and-forths.
Early in the book, Tarja humiliates a Defender named Loclon. As a result of the action that caused the humiliation (killing a fellow Defender), he is sent to become a prison guard. He loathes Tarja and R'shiel, and makes them suffer as much as possible when he is in their care, including raping R'shiel repeatedly. She makes him even more angry by not crying out, however.
A lot of time is spent in the prison town, and I wonder why Tarja didn't try to escape earlier. He waits months, until a riot among the miners distracts a large number of guards. R'shiel independently decides to escape at the same time, but is caught, and brought to Loclon. When he starts to rape her again, she draws upon magic she didn't know she had to make him suffer. Tarja and the former First Sister storm in to rescue her, and she stops, letting Loclon live.
Throughout, the pagan rebels think Tarja and R'shiel betrayed them, and the Defenders know Tarja betrayed them, though many more defected after he did, especially after hearing some of Joyhinia's orders. Tarja escapes the noose, but R'shiel is taken to the Kariens after all, by the pagans. She is tortured because she has Harshini blood, but is able to call upon her magic again to break the staff of Xaphista, burning the Karien ship. It wasn't clear to me why the Karien ship was heading downriver, if it was going back to Karien. It has been established that Karien is upriver, so why would they be going the other way?
Tarja and R'shiel plan their last stand, with Dace, god of Thieves, fully enjoying himself. The Defenders surround the city, but Tarja plans a distraction, though he is betrayed by the courtesan R'shiel had befriended, and is captured. The entire pagan army is captured, and is confronted by Joyhinia. When the head Defender Jenga finally refuses an order, to kill all the pagans in the holding pen, she flies into a rage and spears R'shiel. This, in my view, is the weakest part of the plot. All throughout, Tarja is shown as being an incredible fighter, able to defeat good swordsmen even with his bare hands. Yet Joyhinia surprises him with a blade, so that R'shiel, of all people, leaps into his way and takes the sword strike instead? I don't believe it for a moment.
But so the book ends, with Brak leading an allegiance of Hythrun people to Tarja, just a little too late, the gods have taken R'shiel to heal her (presumably), Dace has stolen Joyhinia's personality (which is hilarious) so she is ignorant of everything in the world, and the Kariens will invade once they learn their envoy and a priest of Xaphista have been killed.
I thoroughly enjoyed most of this novel, and look forward to the second part of the trilogy.
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