Harshini is the final book in the first trilogy of Jennifer Fallon's “The Hythrun Chronicles.” And if that sounds confusing, that's because Tor has decided to put all six books into that series name, despite the fact that it's two different trilogies. In this book, a lot of the intricacies of the previous two books are undone and it's a lot more straightforward than either Medalon or Treason Keep. That can be a good thing, except that it loses a little bit of what makes Fallon's work so special. It's still a fitting conclusion, but things are wrapped up a bit too quickly and the characters are flatter than normal.
The country of Medalon has surrendered to the invading Karien armies, hordes of the evil god Xaphista, despite the fact that the Medalonian armies were winning. Tarja Tenragen, commander of the forces at the northern border with Karien, refuses to accept this, and leads a force of Defenders into an alliance with their one-time enemies, the Hythrun, led by Warlord Damin Wolfblade. All of this seems to stand in the way of R'Shiel, a half-Harshini woman, who has been tasked with destroying Xaphista in a way her god-like fellow Harshini can't. Frustrated by the politics of this world, with one king planning an invasion of another's kingdom, and fresh from arranging a marriage between Damin and the Fardohnyan princess Adrina in order to stabilize that situation, she must work out a way to destroy Xaphista that won't lead the rest of the world into the fires of war that it may never recover from. With the belief in certain gods making them even stronger, will she be able to succeed?
Usually, I really like the way Fallon handles political intrigue, juggling so many balls that many authors would likely lose them all. In Harshini, she does a decent job, but I didn't get the same sense I have in her previous books, where R'Shiel and her companions have to constantly be moving in order to keep all of the balls in the air. Instead, this book almost has her do it in step-by-step fashion. She's solved one problem with Damin and Adrina's marriage, so she travels with them to Hytheria. There, Damin has his own problems, especially with having a Fardohnyan bride, so R'Shiel has to help him solve that problem. Then another roadblock gets in the way, and dealing with that one also helps her deal with a subsequent one. Then she has to go back to Medalon for the final showdown. It's almost fantasy politics by rote, and it gets a little boring. Thankfully, Fallon's skill with characterization made sure that it doesn’t get too dull.
R'Shiel is still done very well, though she became a bit more wooden in this book than she has in the past. The only time I was able to get deep into her character was when Brak, another half-Harshini man, showed her the true meaning of being Harshini. The wonder that was on her face and in her eyes was fabulous, and Fallon described it very well. However, the rest of the book she's like a bull in a china shop, demanding that various gods help her in certain ways, being reprimanded even as the gods sullenly do as she asks; always promising that there will be a reckoning, but there never seems to be. One might say that her final heartbreak would be punishment enough, but that was already coming even before she annoyed a number of the gods, so it can't really be considered her comeuppance.
While Tarja is much the same way, more two-dimensional than I'm used to from the author, Fallon really excels at characterizing Damin and Adrina. Their relationship is a joy to watch, as both of them have walls around themselves so high that they don't trust the other one, even when it's obvious to everybody around them that they love each other. Damin is a wonderful combination of sarcasm and intelligence, with the sarcasm hiding a deep devotion to Hytheria and to the people he loves. Adrina is, at times, too much of a spoiled brat, but it was how she was raised. Other characters aren't as strong, with Adrina's father coming off the worst. He's stereotypically greedy and wimpy when R'Shiel demonstrates her full power to him, and he just doesn't come off the page very well. I found him annoying every time I saw him, which makes it nice that it wasn't very often.
The major problem with Harshini, however, is the dropped plot threads that just scream for better treatment. The book is short by today's fantasy standards, and I think it could have used a few more pages to handle some of these, or at least Fallon could have re-worked things to actually resolve them better. The first is Loclon (who I also complained about in Treason Keep), whose storyline just withers on the vine until it's resolved in an almost perfunctory fashion at the very end. He hates R'Shiel for what she did to him, and she hates him for what he did to her in captivity. They spend a lot of time talking about having to find him in the Citadel and not letting him escape during the siege, but then he simply disappears. He then turns up again for a brief appearance so that Fallon can end his storyline. The other plot thread that goes nowhere is what happens to little Mikel. After what he's coerced into attempting to do, he's cast off without a second thought. At least his story does end in a fairly believable fashion, but it's not very interesting. Sure, it manages to throw some more conflict between Damin and Adrina, but that doesn't really go anywhere either, making this storyline seem even worse.
Ultimately, though, Harshini is an enjoyable climax to the series, and I'm looking forward to the next one (a prequel). While it's not as good as the first two books, it's not a complete dud. I just wish Fallon would have done a few things differently.