2001’s The Bone Doll’s Twin is the first volume of Lynn Flewelling’s secondary universe fantasy, Tamír Triad.
Prophecy decrees that the kingdom of Skala must be led by women, lest misfortune befall Skala. However, prophecy does not guarantee that any given queen will be able. Thus, the reign of Mad Queen Agnalain. When Agnalain died, her sole daughter was only seven years old. Agnalain’s son Erius graciously stepped up to usurp the throne, on the grounds that the prophecy no longer applied. His reign has been uneventful save for plague, assorted disasters, and occasional wars … so perhaps he was correct.
Erius welcomes criticism. More accurately, he welcomes the right of all critics and potential critics to be hunted down and executed as enemies of the state. This has consequences for his relatives. The most serious potential threat to Erius’ rule comes from his own family.
Any living female relative of Agnalain’s is a potential rival around whom resistance could accrete. While the King is too sentimental to murder his half-sister Ariani, this mercy does not extend to any other woman in the family. Cue a wave of violent murders, to ensure that potential claimants to the throne are too dead to oppose the King.
Now married to Duke Rhius of Atyio, Ariani will soon give birth to twins. Wizards Iya and Arkoniel are well aware that any infant girl would be murdered. One twin is a girl. Despite qualms about the morality of what they are about to do, baby girl Tobin is magically transformed into a boy. The boy twin is sacrificed for the greater good, buried as a dead girl.
Tobin is raised as the boy Tobin appears to be. Manly virtues appropriate to the duke’s class are encouraged. Any interest in matters deemed feminine are harshly discouraged. Having no inkling about the spell, Tobin cooperates to the best of Tobin’s ability. The ruse is successful, save for two minor details.
Complication the first: Tobin’s murdered brother’s ghost haunts Tobin. Fury transforms the revenant into a demonic figure. The specter being decidedly unsubtle, its existence is in no way secret.
Complication the second: once Tobin hits puberty, the spell will have to be reversed. How then to protect Tobin from the King?
Some readers may hope that the eventual solution to the problems faced by the kingdom is the rise of responsible government and the creation of something like an elected parliament. I regret to report that the gods of this world are committed to monarchy. Alternative modes of government seem unlikely to be explored or allowed. This is only one line of evidence suggesting that the gods of this world are dicks.
As I recall, I acquired my copy of this novel as swag at Millennium PhilCon in 20011. It took me twenty-two years to get around to reading it. I’d like to say this delay is a record — but it isn’t. I may have problems abandoning books mid-narrative, but I am adept at never starting them.
Despite the long tradition of warrior queens, this particular society seems to be committed to the notion that there are men and there are women and the two categories should never be confused. And yet Iya and Arkoniel are pragmatic enough to use gender-blurring spells (despite having serious qualms about the spell and the murder of the babe). Indeed, the fact that the spell exists at all raises questions that won’t be answered by the author … at least in this book2. Note that while the ruse saves Tobin, it also comes with any number of unpleasant side-effects3.
Dark magic used to preserve the dynastic claims of a lineage given to madness raises serious questions about whether team Tobin are in fact the good guys. It is probably for the best that most of the narrative focuses on Tobin, who is an innocent in all of this.
Morally questionable wizards aside, this is a fairly standard fantasy novel of its time. Specifically, this is a fantasy trilogy in the mode of the 1990s. Each of the books is hefty by Disco-era standards: 524 pages in this case. Also, while the trilogy as a whole (presumably) contains a complete narrative, there are no guarantees for each volume. In this case, The Bone Doll’s Twin does not end so much as it stops.
Tobin is engaging enough. Individual events are diverting. Is this enough to recommend the book? Well, the cliffhanger ending may deter some possible readers. On the other hand, someone was buying these series a generation ago; those people and those like them might enjoy this work, provided they manage to hunt down the next two books (cliffhanger cure).
1: This book must have been packed away in my luggage or I would have read it during the bus ride from hell, which began with the bus getting lost, featured a/c cranked up to Alive-reenactment cooling levels plus an exploding dog, and ended with me at a closed bus station at 2 AM, sans luggage. In the rain. But at least the passengers were not forced to eat each other.
2: Not least of the questions raised by the existence of the spell is “would the prophecy be happy if the spell were cast on Erius?”
3: Ariani goes mad but, since her mother was insane, Ariani’s madness may have been inherited. Her madness may also have been exacerbated by the birth of her twins, the death (murder) of one, and the ensuing lies about which baby died. That’s a lot for a new mom to handle.