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The start of a another great Jennifer Fallon trilogy
on 31 January 2006
With Wolfblade, Jennifer Fallon goes into the past of the world she created for the Hythrun Chronicles, giving us a story of Marla Wolfblade, Damin’s mother (the Hythrian Warlord in the original trilogy). Marla was an interesting character in that trilogy. Though not used much, she was intriguing, irascible, politically expedient and very intelligent. How did she get to her position? Wolfblade begins that story. Other than a slow beginning, it’s a fantastic tale of political fantasy with the question always hanging over the book: who will end up with the throne of Hythria? I’m already looking forward to the results, which is a good thing since we know what the political landscape will look like in about fifteen to twenty years.
Sixteen-year-old Marla Wolfblade is the only sister to an increasingly perverted High Prince of Hythria. Lernan has no interest in bedding a woman, not even to establish an heir, and the rest of his practices become increasingly strange as the book moves on. He has no interest in running the country, and leaves that to the High Arrion of the Sorcerers’ Collective, an old man named Kagan. Marla is to be married off to the King of Fardohnya as part of a political bargain, but dissidents within Hythria are determined to remove Lernan from power. Other dissidents come up with a plan of their own. Caught between these factions, young Marla wishes desperately to marry for love, but instead is constantly told what she must do for the good of the realm. Now, with the much-needed son that everybody wants, will she be able to protect him from those who want absolute power anyway?
Wolfblade is book one of the “Wolfblade Trilogy,” at least in North America. When Fallon originally wrote the books in her native Australia, this was book four of the Hythrun Chronicles. Personally, I wish they would have left it that way. If you’re a fan of Fallon’s like I am, you’d follow her from book to book anyway. However, anyone who picks this up cold as the beginning of a new series may be hard-pressed to stay interested at the beginning. I cared about the characters because I knew where this would ultimately lead and I wanted to see how the story got there, but I have to say the beginning is tedious at first. I persevered, and I was rewarded, but somebody coming in without the benefit of the previous books might not.
Part of the problem is that Marla is incredibly annoying. It’s a vivid contrast to the Marla we know from the previous trilogy, and it’s hard to get used to at first. She whines a lot about marrying for love, gets the mistaken impression of who she’s going to marry *twice* (both times thinking that she would finally get her wish only to have it dashed) and is despondent after that. Without our knowledge of the characters, Fallon has to work doubly hard to keep them interesting as she’s introducing all of the palace intrigue. Who really cares who will succeed to a throne of a country we’re not familiar with at all?
Thankfully, Fallon gets past that and delivers a wonderful book. The characters are extremely well-drawn (the beginning is important to what comes, even though it is slow), the situations interesting, and Fallon makes us care about this succession. Political fantasy, where there is no earth-shattering threat involved, can be boring, but Fallon avoids that trap as well. Marla and the rest of the nobility have to maneuver very quickly to satisfy their aims, and many of those aims are conflicting, even for people on the same side. It’s almost heartbreaking, but also horrifying, what Mahkas, Laran’s brother, finds himself forced to do to keep a secret. Marla’s relationship with Laran is about as good as can be, considering the age difference between them. Marla’s dwarf slave, Elezaar, teaches her about politics and how to accumulate power and protect herself, and their relationship is quite good as well.
Yes, you did read correctly above. One of the problems with Wolfblade is the very similar set of character names, even more confusing because of their relationship to Marla. Lernan is her brother, and Laran is her husband. It makes it hard to tell them apart at times, at least until the context gives it away (they are two vastly different characters). Thankfully, other than the slow beginning, this is the only real fault with the book.
What I was really impressed with was that Fallon was able to surprise me. Certain events that I thought would turn out one way went in the completely opposite direction. Because of that, one of the chapter climaxes completely floored me. I felt like I had been punched. It was a great move on Fallon’s part, and the rest of the story flowed from it, creating more surprises. While the end result of the book is tied up fairly neatly, it leaves a lot of room for the next book to carry the story forward. Thus, it makes the best of both worlds: a self-contained story for those who hate “to be continued” and the first part of what looks to be a great trilogy for those who don’t mind that.
What may be even more of a selling point for those who enjoyed the first series is that there is more action with the Harshini, those demi-god like beings who regularly talk to the various gods, who are immortal (unless killed), and who were hunted down by the Medalon priestesses. We learn a lot more about them and their relationship to the gods as well, and it looks like there will be a lot more of that in the subsequent two books. I can’t wait.
If you’re a Fallon fan, you have to pick this book up. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, you can still try this one, but just persevere through the beginning. It gets much better.