WARRIORA novel by Jennifer Fallon
(2005, TOR Books)
The Hythrun Chronicles: Wolfblade Trilogy, book 2
Princess Marla's children, by birth, marriage and adoption, grow up away from her as she rules Hythria in her brother's name, dealing with assassination attempts, plague and treachery inside and outside her house.
-- First reading (ebook)
The two halves of this book represent different stories with the same characters, and each one of them was engaging and rewarding, with a complex plot and a multitude of opinions. The climax of the book was so good that I couldn't put it down. The fact that I predicted so much of what would happen just made it more interesting, with the best part that I was wrong about one major point, and I really liked the main character's solution to his problem.Spoiler review:
What really makes this book work is the cultures of the different realms, and how they are played upon to give the different characters their differences. Everybody is thinking about how to achieve power, but for their own selfish reasons, and they act on their instincts based on their culture.
As with the last book, too many people came to the same conclusions based on either the same or different information at around the same time, which seems unlikely at best, at least it didn't happen too often in this book, and at least one character remains in the dark until late into the book.
This book is actually two books combined into one. The two parts take place twelve years apart, and except in one tenuous thread (and the characters, of course), are completely separate. The book ends on a sort of cliff-hanger, which Wolfblade did not, but it seems like a natural point of separation for what comes next.
I wonder how much of this material the author had when writing the Demon Child Trilogy, because so much of what is said there matches so well with this backstory. If this trilogy was conceived later, I would expect too many inconsistencies or unlikely scenarios, which does not happen here.
In the first part of the book, we meet Luciena, the child of Marla's late second husband, but because of politics, she couldn't adopt the girl until the mother died. For this, and the promises that Luciena thinks were unfulfilled for so long, she hates the Wolfblades. But it brings into contrast how different people perceive promises. Marla essentially states that she waited until the right moment to make the adoption, while Luciena thinks it should have been done right away, and was delayed by politics.
High Arrion Alija, who has been trying to get control of the Hythrun empire since the beginning of the last book, sees Luciena as ripe for exacting her vengeance, so she places a spell on the girl that will activate based on a catch-phrase, and send Luciena to try and kill Damin Wolfblade.
Marla does adopt the young woman, and as people start to arrive at Krakandar castle, things get more lively, and no matter how much she tries to hate the Wolfblades, she can see that they are obviously good people, and they take care of their own. I liked the different people, especially the kids. They were easy to confuse, as they were all natural kids, getting into mischief, and so on. They were identified by their parents, but even that didn't make things easier, because there is an enormous number of characters, either adult or child. The only one who was really different was Kalan, and probably because we got to see her from her point of view.
The scene of note occurs when the girls want to go shopping in the market, and the boys tag along, including Damin, because they want to sneak off and get Kalan to the Thieves Guild to see Wrayan, the part-Harshini who sold his soul to the god of thieves in the last book -she wants to become a wizard, and she thinks he can help her. They succeed in escaping their guards temporarily, only to find out that Wrayan is away, but his courtesan lover will pass the message along when he gets back.
It is during this escapade (from which everyone gets into a huge amount of trouble) that somebody utters the trigger phrase, and when Luciena gets back to the castle, she sneaks into Damin's room and tries to kill him. Of course, although he is thirteen years old, he has earlier managed to disarm his chief lieutenant, and Luciena is no problem.
Sent to the dungeon, Luciena waits for a death sentence, but Marla's latest husband changes her mind, thinking that if Alija doesn't know her plan failed, then she won't try again. I find this very difficult to believe, and I would bet that somebody like Alija would have multiple plots going all at the same time. But she doesn't, because she waits 12 years before hatching a new one.
Wrayan literally walks in at the last moment to save Luciena's life (Marla would have her killed for her attack on Damin), stripping through Alija's simple spells and creating new barriers to protect her in the future. He was away in Fardohnya to help Brak the half-breed rescue a young wizard from that magic-fearing society. The wizard happens to be Luciena's cousin, and he won't be as powerful as Wrayan, but he did manage to kill a man by pulling an anvil through a wall. Brak is in pain because he was forced to kill the king of the Harshini, because of course the king was raping a Medalonian woman to create the Demon Child, who we will only get to meet in Medalon. The adventure was quite exciting and the characters so rich and interesting, that it was really a pleasure to read this part of it.
And twelve years later, Alija starts a plague in Hythria, guiding a plague-ridden outlander to the spot where Damin, at twenty-five years old, is partying. Within a few months, so many people are dead, including many of the Warlords. The interesting thing here is that most Warlords have young children, and they cannot become warlords themselves until they reach thirty years old, Damin included. So as one Warlord falls to the plague after another, the Sorcerer's Collective -under Alija's control- takes control of each of Hythria's provinces! When she has a majority, she can deny even Damin his birthright!
While the first part of this book was about Marla, this part was about Damin as an adult. His chief conflict comes in the form of his uncle Mahkas, who in the last book orchestrated the deaths of his siblings and Damin's father, and has so far kept it completely under wraps, though he is going crazy as a result of it.
It was very interesting to get inside Mahkas' head as he finds ways to justify everything he does to himself, to the point where he is completely as a loss to understand why Damin wants to kill him at the end of the book! He believes his only daughter is the perfect match to become Damin's princess, though the cousins want nothing to do with each other romantically. Leila and Damin's foster-brother Starros, however, have become lovers, something Damin encourages. But Mahkas is one of those high-born people who thinks low-born people should not intermix with the high-born, and is always trying to put the young man in his place. When he finally does discover their relationship, he snaps completely, sending Starros to be whipped day after day after day, by himself, of course. He also whips Leila once, and seals her in her room naked with no food.
When he finally convinces her that Starros is dead, she becomes peaceful, and Mahkas thought she was finally coming to terms with her errors, when actually she was going to take a nice bath all alone and kill herself. I could see all of this coming from the moment Damin left the castle to go rounding up Medalonian cattle. It was like watching a train wreck, knowing I couldn't do anything about it. But it was so well written, that even though I could pin down exactly what was going to come next (with one exception), I enjoyed every moment of it, to the point where I couldn't put the book down!
First there was the inevitable discovery. When the lovers were separated, I knew that Starros would be whipped to within an inch of his life, and I didn't know if he would survive (by the end of the book, we still don't know, but it looks like Damin has promised the young man's soul to the gods, and look how messed up Wrayan is after he did that...). I could follow Leila's train of thought as if I was writing the novel, and could tell the moment she asked to be alone that she would kill herself. Kalan seemed to know it, as well, but only subconsciously, and she didn't heed the warning her heart gave her.
With Damin arriving back at the castle the same day, his reaction was also inevitable. When he sees Starros, his fury erupts. When he finds out about Leila, though Mahkas doesn't yet know, he becomes silently lethal, with the fury controlling every part of him. Although it would be completely satisfying for Damin to kill his uncle at this point, he can't do it, politically, or else Alija will gain control of too many provinces -she is only one away at this point. Practically, he is forced to keep Mahkas alive. But I really thought the author would have his fury take him over so much that he would go down that path, killing his uncle and giving Alija control. But Luciena's brother Rorin, the wizard, keeps interfering magically and with his words. All he needs to say is "one Warlord short", and Damin realizes the danger he is in. He ends up tearing a hole in his uncle's throat anyway, and leaving him one step from death, though he recovers physically.
There are other plots in this part of the novel, the main one of course being the spread of the plague from province to province, and how Damin finds a way to control it and prevent its spread to Krakandar by decreasing the rat population (he then feeds this information to his mother and the other provinces). Luciena and her husband and kids are on the sea to Fardohnya, where King Hablet plans to use them for his own purposes. But his first daughter, the sprightly Adrina, who will end up marrying Damin in Harshini, tells them about the plot and they escape through Medalon to Krakandar. Damin's first mission to gather cattle from Medalon was actually quite fun, especially his fear at jumping a huge ravine to get into the neighboring state.
And then there is Alija, who can't read the Wolfblade family's minds, or when she does, she thinks they are all thinking mundane thoughts because of the protective Harshini shield Wrayan has put over their minds all these years. She thinks Damin is an idiot who only likes to party -actually, everyone thinks this, because he is so good at hiding his true self, and everyone who gets close to him suddenly realizes what a dangerous man he has become. But when the plague takes Marla's third husband, a trader who specializes in information as much as spices, Alija tends to the man, still pretending to be Marla's friend, even though Marla is simply biding her time -the two women secretly loathe each other. Alija can't resist trying to get inside Ruxton's mind, but as he dies, the shield evaporates and she gains all of his knowledge, of everything Marla knows and has kept secret from her, and how much she has been duped over the last twenty-five years. It really does make Alija look like a fool, the more because she hasn't tried to kill Damin more than twice in that time.
But Alija goes one step further. She buys a slave that looks remarkably like Elezar's deceased brother. Marla's trusted courtesan is lured into a trap where it doesn't matter if the man is his brother or not, he can't allow him to be tortured with devices that still haunt the dwarf's nightmares, twenty-five years later -we saw Elezar's brother in the opening scenes of Woldblade. So he confesses everything that Marla knows, confirming what Alija found inside Ruxton's dying mind, and then more still.
In the end, Elezar kills himself after confessing to Marla how he betrayed her, and both Marla and Alija start to plan for the new political game, in which they are on a much more level footing with respect to what they know about each others' personalities and ambitions.
This book corrected what I considered a serious annoyance in Marla's character. In Wolfblade, I found her naiveté to be too extreme, and she managed to blunder her way through everything, even when she thought she was playing everyone to her tune. In this book, she goes to the other extreme, ready to do anything for her family, born by her or adopted into her family. I like this Marla much better, and her son Damin also, especially when he reveals how much he knows about politics and things that have to be done.
The next book promises to bring war to Hythria, as King Hablet is planning to take advantage of the sudden drop in Hythrun soldiers due to the plague, and invade. Damin's solution to two major problems, who will lead the Hythrun army and how to get rid of his uncle, is ingenious, I think. Nobody expects the perverted Lernen to lead the troops into battle, but Damin can't do it until he turns 30. So he asks his uncle to drop the legal age to 25! With this change coming into effect (presumably early in the next book), he will become a warlord in his own right (as will several people whose provinces are currently under the control of the Sorcerer's Collective), and he can lead the army into battle. I can't wait for this story to continue.
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