Science fiction and fantasy
by Jennifer Fallon
Marla Wolfblade comes from the other end of the social spectrum. As the teenage sister of the High Prince of Hythria her main concern is who she will wed. Love may not play much of a part when it comes to forging suitable alliances through marriage, and as a noble she will have to marry for the good of the country. She does not want to accept a union with a man she detests, nor a lonely position in a foreign harem, but she may have no choice. Marla's brother, Prince Lernen, isn't the most astute of rulers, but he has the final say in who she will be married off to.
Lernen's misrule has left the country in a state of chaos. The High Prince is interested only in his own pleasures, no matter how scandalous, and he neglects his job. This has led factions to turn against him, and the Patriot movement wants to replace him with its own choice of leader. This faction is led by Alija Eaglespike, a duplicitous woman who also happens to be one of the very few people in the country who can use magic. Even the leader of the Sorcerers' Collective, High Arrion Kagan Palenovar, has no magical talent. It's a world in which gods, demons and wizardry don't form a part of people's everyday experience.
Kagan is intent on keeping Marla safe so that she will be able to bear an heir to the throne and thus keep the country stable, even though he has considerable reservations about the current ruler.
The epic plot of Wolfblade is largely concerned with politics, as the dangers of assassination, coup and war threaten the characters. Yet Jennifer Fallon's protagonists are not all that sympathetic. They live in an odious society that's divided so harshly between the haves and the have-nots that it's hard to care about any of the selfish and spoilt ruling class that the author tends to focus on. It's hard to root for Marla, or any of her friends and family, when they don't even seem to care about the slaves' situation.
This novel is set in a standard late-medieval type of world, a common enough environment for this genre. But the author seems to have borrowed a few things from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, oddly enough. Not only is there a Guild of Thieves and a Guild of Assassins, but Fallon has also used the idea that gods are made stronger or weaker by the numbers and the devotion of their worshippers. Pratchett used this device in Small Gods, but unfortunately Jennifer Fallon is using it in this novel without any of the humour or inventiveness that Pratchett brought to the idea. In fact, this is just the kind of work he was satirising in his earlier Discworld books, since it's full of the clichés that afflict the high fantasy genre.
Wolfblade has more than a handful of stock characters, and both the dialogue and events are often predictable. The author tends to foreshadow plot twists to such an extent that anyone could see them coming. Her villains are clearly outmatched by their opponents, so that they never seem to present a formidable threat to the protagonists. Characters who could have been terrifying instead end up pitiable, and whilst this may be truer to life it makes for sleepy reading.
Another related problem with this book is the way it's paced. Rather than building up momentum towards the end, the story plods along until it just seems to stop in the middle of things. It's as though the author reached just past the 600 page mark and decided the book was long enough. This is a novel that lacks suspense in any case, but the ending leaves large chunks of the plot unfinished without at least delivering the satisfaction of some serious action and intrigue unfolding as a finale. Although Marla Wolfblade matures from a callow young girl into a subtle and determined woman who has to make tough choices, Wolfblade is too pedestrian to make her long story an essential read.
If you like this, try:Voice of the Gods by Trudi Canavan
In the third episode of The Age of the Five Auraya faces a stark choice between her gods and the people she has grown to love.
Myrren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh
The first novel in the Quickening series finds a young general given a strange gift by a woman condemned for witchcraft.
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