I very nearly did not finish even the first book (THE BONE DOLL’S TWIN) of this trilogy, nevermind the whole thing, but damn, I’m glad I did.
I’d had it recommended to me a while back when I was thinking about the structure of a YA series I want to write someday. As it happens, it doesn’t do the thing I was thinking about, which is neither here nor there, but holy wow is it well written. I mean, really, really well written, to the point that despite the fact that I was not enjoying what I was reading at all I also couldn’t quite convince myself to stop–and believe me, these days if I run up against something that doesn’t work for me, I put the book down and walk away with no regrets. I just…couldn’t…quite…do that…with this one.
The first…15 chapters? About that. Are incredibly bleak. They should be: they’re dealing with a very dark and terrible act and the way it affects all the protagonists. But it’s pretty unrelenting, and it wasn’t the hope that it was going to get better that kept me going. I was, in fact, not at all sure that it *would* get better, despite the fact that the prologue/opening chapter thingy indicated that eventually things did improve (because the prologue is from centuries later, which was too ‘eventually’ for this story). Somewhere around the mid-way point of the first book things lighten up a little, and I do mean a *little*: it’s probably 2/3rds of the way through that it started to become an actually enjoyable read, and then I burned through the next two books in the next two days.
What kept me going is the phenomenally good writing. I’d never previously read anything of Lynn Flewelling‘s; now I will be reading everything she has available. I want to actually talk about the Terrible Act and the writing in some detail, so I’m going to put it behind a cut, but the short version is that she starts with an act of outright evil and makes it the seed for good, and she does it in a way that you never forgive and you’re never comfortable with and which questions both what is necessary for balance and what prices people are willing to pay (the good of the one vs the good of the many), and it has repercussions right up to the last page of the books, and
It’s also a terrific adventure story, and a powerful growing-up story, and it plunges into gender identity questions, and considers the price of loyalty–and it’s all well written enough that I, who have a very low tolerance for bleak right now, couldn’t stop reading even when I really kind of wanted to. It’s extremely, extremely good stuff.
The series starts with the good guys murdering a newborn baby. They ‘have’ to, as ordered by their goddess, so that the infant’s twin sister can take his shape and avoid being murdered herself by the king who has been killing all females with a claim to the throne (due to Reasons). The mother goes crazy, the father shuts himself away, Tobin-who-becomes-Tamír is raised all alone in a keep haunted by his dead brother’s ghost and is occasionally visited by the wizards who (unbeknownst to him) murdered his brother.
This is roughly as cheerful as you would expect. There’s a heartbreaking scene where at age 6 or so he’s given a chance to select a birthday present, and a doll catches his eye, and his father (who is one of the few who knows the truth about Tobin’s original gender) panics and says dolls aren’t for boys in such a way that it basically scars the kid for life. And it *shows*. Everything. shows. That’s the strength of the writing; that’s why I couldn’t put it down. The repercussions of every action are so honestly portrayed that even though it was all horrible I kept. wanting. to know. what happened. next. Part of it was needing to see if the poor kid ever got a break (yes, sort of), but it was just so honestly, rawly written that I couldn’t stop reading. And the story only grows more powerful, I think, as the trilogy goes on. It never gets easy in terms of the story arcs, but it gets easier to read as the worst of the bleakness passes, and it’s well worth the effort in the end.