With Wolfblade, Jennifer Fallon goes into the past of the world she created for the Hythrun Chronicles, giving us a story of Marla Wolfblade, mother of Damin (the Hythrian Warlord in the original trilogy). Though not seen much in that trilogy, 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 is a fabulous tale of political fantasy with one question always hanging over the book: who will end up with the throne of Hythria? I am 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 of the 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. Neither has he interest in running the country, leaving 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. Another group of dissidents come up with a plan of their own. Caught between these factions, young Marla wishes desperately to marry for love when she is constantly told what she must do for the good of the realm. Now, will she be able to protect her much sought-after son from those who want absolute power?
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. It may have been better is NA publishers would have left it that way – fans of Fallon would follow her from book to book anyway. Anyone who picks this up cold as the first book 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 the beginning is nonetheless initially tedious. I persevered and 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. She stands in vivid contrast to the Marla we know from the previous trilogy, and it is hard to get used to. She whines a lot about marrying for love, gets the mistaken impression of whom she is 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 prior knowledge of the characters, Fallon has to work doubly hard to keep them interesting as she introduces the palace intrigue. Who really cares who will succeed to the throne of a country we’re not familiar with at all?
Thankfully, Fallon gets past that and ultimately 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 other members of the nobility must maneuver quickly to satisfy their aims, many of which conflict even for people on the same side. It is almost heartbreaking, and definitely 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 close 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. Distinguishing between the two can be hard 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 book’s only real fault.
That Fallon is able to surprise loyal readers is impressive. 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 is a great move on Fallon’s part, and the rest of the story flows 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. It’s 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 demigod-like beings who regularly talk to the various gods, who are immortal (unless killed), who were hunted down by the Medalon priestesses. We learn much more about them and their relationship to the gods as well, and it looks like there will be more of that in the subsequent two books. I can’t wait.
If you are already a Fallon fan, you must pick this book up. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, you can still try this one, but be steadfast and persevere through the beginning. It gets much better.