WOLFBLADEA novel by Jennifer Fallon
(2005, TOR Books)
The Hythrun Chronicles: Wolfblade Trilogy, book 1
The young sister of the inept and perverted Prince of Hythria is sold into marriage, but others conspire to have her bring an heir into the realm, as she learns the hard way that she can only trust herself.
-- First reading (ebook)
There was an interesting story of a nation in this book, and it took the main female character from a naive young princess, through several betrayals, to become the fierce woman we saw in the later trilogy. Unfortunately, she is naive through far too much of the book, which became annoying after a while. The author's style of repeating the same information from different characters, or having all the characters come to the same conclusion separately, also prevented the novel from being the great story that it could have been.Spoiler review:
I think I've seen older versions of most of the main characters from this book in the other Hythrun trilogy (which takes place maybe two decades later), most likely in Harshini. As this is a prequel novel, it's cool to see the characters grow up into the more mature adults we see later.
he case in point is Marla. We first see her as a fifteen year old girl who is swooning over the men she meets, not aware that her brother has promised her to the King of Fardhonia, in return for mountains of money. When she does find out, she is devastated, but people keep telling her to get used to it, because she will be a political pawn all of her life. Although she vows to stop being such a pawn early on, it is not until the last chapter that she actually tries (and succeeds).
Lernen Wolfblade is the High Prince of Hythrun; I'm not sure why they don't have a king. But he is the weakest of the Wolfblade name, perhaps ever. He cares only for his own perverted pleasure, which always features other men, or boys, and sometimes reach the point of the deaths of those with whom he is fulfilling his fantasies. The deaths are always of slaves, so most people don't complain much.
The powerlessness of slaves is brought to us from the point of view of Elezaar the dwarf. He watches as his master's household is destroyed (for being a friend of Lernen's), and he alone survives. I find it surprising that Alija hadn't been suspicious of any dwarf slave after she learned that he was missing from that slaughter, especially when Marla chose him as her court'esa. But nothing comes of that knowledge, so I guess it didn't matter, anyway.
The book is split up into five parts, and although they all have a sort of conclusion, some loose ends always remain, and they aren't all tied up later. In part one, Alija Eaglespeak tries to take over the crown of the High Prince, because everyone knows what a bad job he's doing. The real power behind the throne is the head of the sorcerer's collective, Kagan Palenovar, who rules with an even hand. But Kagan has no real magical power, and Alija does (only one of two since the Harshini disappeared). Alija tries to bring the power of the noble houses and warlords to bring Lernen down, but at every turn, she is stopped, to some extent. The "sale" of Marla to Fardhonya only strengthens her cause, though, because no Hythrun wants a Fardhonyan on the throne. Given Lernen's choice of bedmates, Marla's son, assuming she has one, will be the next High Prince.
In the second part of the book, a plot is hatched to keep Lernen on the throne and provide a Hythrun heir, by those loyal to the royalty. New warlord Laran Krakenshield inherits not only his province by turning of age, but when his stepfather dies, he inherits a second province. The other warlords don't like this, but the High Arrion uses his part-Harshini apprentice to influence the High Prince with magic, in order allow it. Then, Laran married Marla, again under the influenced blessing of Lernen.
I think the most interesting part of the book was when Marla was married to Laran. She was obviously unhappy, especially after thinking she was going to marry Nashan Hawksword, yet Laran gave her everything she could ever want -except love and romance.
The family politics surrounding Laran were complicated, because his mother married three men over the years, and gave him two stepbrothers (one illegitimate) and two step-sisters. I thought Laran and the others would become big players in the further stories, but it was not to be. Darilyn and Mahkas plot to have the Fardhonyans kidnap their little sister Rikka just because they are jealous of her. I liked Rikka, quite a lot, and more than I liked Marla, who was very naive even this far into the book. Rikka is the same age as Marla, and kind of remotely looks like her. But things, of course, go horribly wrong, and when the kidnappers realize this is not Marla, the Fardhonyans kill her, which came as a big shock to me. Unfortunately, the author doesn't make the passage emotional at all, and the story just continues on its way. I'm surprised King Hablet didn't kill his majordomo when he realized what happened.
Laran traipses all the way out there only to find his sister dead, and while he gets Hablet to pay handsomely for her death, and he feels sorry and in despair, the story is more about Mahkas, who kills Darilyn before she can confess their parts in this.
So Mahkas gets away with effectively killing his two sisters, and then Laran, two years later. I have trouble believing that Mahkas hasn't seen Kagan at all since Marla's son Damin was born. Did he get into such a sweat every time the High Arrion announced a visit? Here, when he hears of Kagan's unscheduled visit, he starts daydreaming about what he would have to do in order to keep his secret. Having Laran killed was easy, because they were raiding Medalonian land, and were attacked by Defenders. Mahkas just didn't save his brother, or waited a little too long. This left him only with the problem of Marla and her son, Laran's heir, standing in the way of him becoming a warlord.
Marla saved him the trouble when she declared that she wanted him to be regent for her son. But she also has a secret. As Laran was dying, she was making fierce love to Nashan Hawksword, the man she fantasized about since she met him (and as Kagan said, had a two sentence conversation with) at the ball when she was fifteen.
This book has some really good parts, and some parts that take some suspension of disbelief. One of these, though it turns out not to be such a big deal later on (as with so many things in this novel), is that Marla becomes pregnant after her fling with Nashan. I would have felt better about it if she even thought about her fertility cycle when she was contemplating how this affair would affect Laran and the realm. But it didn't even cross her mind, even though she should surely know when she was ovulating (or maybe it was the hormones that drove her to the affair in the first place). Even her brother admonishes her for that, wondering how she couldn't even learn how to refrain from getting pregnant from her court'esa.
So after Laran dies, she marries Nashan, the love of her life -or so she thinks. She then learns he has been Alija's lover for years before they had their affair, only after Nashan's kids are two years old.
It is this moment that makes her grow up, finally. She has had all the tools for all of her life, but never used them, always living for love, like her brother, and never for her own protection, as Elezaar always tried to teach her. But this, and the attack on her son, she had to endure without him present, and because of that, she grows -apparently the dwarf was holding her back. Alija silently murdered Kagan, using poison without a trace (I wonder if anybody will figure that out), so she becomes High Arrion. But Marla decides to take Kagan's place, organizing her brother's life, and becoming the power behind the throne, after having tasted a little of that power when she organized the treaty with Medalon.
Other than Marla, the only other character who really gets some sort of growth is Wrayan, the High Arrion's apprentice. He is the one who finds Marla outside with Nashan when she is fifteen. He has to make a deal with the god of thieves, to whom only he seems to be able to speak (because he is part Harshini). Later, when Kagan is trying to get Lernen secretly over to Marla's wedding to Laran, Wrayan is supposed to distract Alija, which he does, but to his own detriment. Alija uses some powerful Harshini spell to augment her power, nearly killing Wrayan.
It is Brak, the half-breed, who brings Wrayan to the Harshini, where he is healed, and falls in love with the sister of the king. They spend some time there, where Wrayan learns a little about his Harshini side, but apparently never learns any magic. The night dedicated to the goddess of love, he makes love to the Harshini princess, potentially creating the demon child in the process. We know from the later (earlier) novels that this is not the union that creates the demon child, so the impact is somewhat lessened.
When a band of Kariens is spotted outside the Harshini lands (which are usually hidden from the world and from time), Brak and Wrayan go out and kill them, and that is when they decide to return to the real world. Wrayan sees Alija with Marla in Medalon, and that is when he gets his memory back, finally. But he honors his promise to the god of thieves, and becomes a thief himself, instead of returning to his old life. It is he who discovers Nashan in bed with Alija, and reveals it to his old master and thus Marla.
The five stories in the five parts of this novel kept my interest, and all of them had some really good moments. However, I was annoyed by Marla about half the time, especially by her naiveté. Another thing that really bothered me was the author's method of having different people, often on different sides of the conflict, think about events and come to the same conclusion, even if one side rejects it and the other side embraces it. One blatant time that comes to mind is when Kagan returns home after influencing Lernen to visit the place where Marla will eventually be married. Alija is suspicious, and thinks that if Kagan seemed to want to go willingly (which he pretends not to), she would be more suspicious. But her slave court'esa, whom she trusts implicitly, comes to the correct conclusion that now that Laran had inherited two provinces, he would have enough money to marry Marla and produce a Hythrun heir, which is exactly correct! Alija dismisses that theory, and goes off to challenge Wrayan instead, and the wedding takes place.
This happens over and over again throughout the novel, which I think is a poor writing style. Regardless, I like the new Marla that emerges at the end of the book, and I like the way Wrayan is starting to distance himself from Brak. Hopefully we will have two stronger people when the next book begins.
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