Friday, January 09, 2009

Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold

The first of Jane Lindskold's books I read was Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, which, as best as I can recall, a friend loaned to me. I was attracted by the title and entranced by the strange, quirky story within. (One of my goals for this year is to reread the book; I hope I love it as much on a reread many years later.) From then on, I kept an eye out for Lindskold's books. Some I passed on, some I loved (Changer and Legends Walking particularly and I wish she'd write more in that universe) while others were so-so for me. When she started her Firekeeper saga with Through Wolf's Eyes I was right there. I only managed to read two books in the six book series; not because they were bad but because they were dense, detailed epic fantasy with tiny print on the page and I couldn't get my CFS-brain to process them easily.

Lindskold wrapped up the Firekeeper books in 2007 and last November saw the publication of Thirteen Orphans, the first in her new series, Breaking the Wall. This is a contemporary-set fantasy with its inspiration in Mahjong and Chinese culture. Several generations ago, twelve magical advisors and their child emperor (the Thirteen Orphans) were exiled from a world evocatively known as the Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice. Now, their descendants live in modern day America, some aware of their heritage and others not. As the story begins, Brenda Morris, nineteen year old heir apparent to her father, the Rat, travels with him to meet the emperor's descendant and, unbeknown to her, learn about her heritage for the first time.

But something goes wrong, and the man they have come to visit is first missing and then strangely changed. Shortly after, the same thing happens to Brenda's father - all his memories of his life and heritage as the Rat are stolen and he no longer remembers any of that part of his life. Brenda finds herself working with Pearl Bright, the Tiger of the Thirteen Orphans, and the three others whose memories have not been stolen. Although not the Rat herself, Brenda finds herself able to access some of the Rat's abilities and the five remaining Orphans work to discover and stop their enemies and return the memories of the rest of the group.

This was a very good story with a fascinating premise. I know what Mahjong is and, years ago, I played it a few times, but it isn't something I know very much about. This didn't particularly matter as so long as I knew roughly what the tiles looked like, Lindskold filled in as much detail as required for the story. The link between the game (which is used as a mnemonic for magic more than for magic itself) and magic and culture was neatly worked out and I enjoyed it very much.

I also like the characters. I think we probably get to know Brenda and Pearl best of all the main characters and I liked them both. Brenda is young and unsure, always aware she is not actually the Rat but only his heir while the others are the full holders of their power. Possibly falling in love with an enemy isn't an addition she needs, but doesn't seem able to help, the painful irony compounded by the fact the man has lost his memory in the same manner as the lost Thirteen Orphans and she is most probably falling for an illusion anyway. But Brenda rises above it all, holds her own with her companions and manages to make the right decisions when it counts.

The reasons why the Orphans are suddenly being hunted after so many years are cleverly put - and equally cleverly turned on their head in the final climax of the book. There is a full story here, but it is clearly the beginning of a larger story and I suspect we may find that what we thought was the point of the tale will prove to be a side-step beside the actual arc of the entire series.

I am looking forward to the sequel, Nine Gates, which will be published in August this year, and Lindskold is currently working on the third book, Five Odd Honors. I have no idea how long the series is expected to be and I am tempted to email the author to ask. It is kind of nice to have a rough idea what I'm getting into.

Thirteen Orphans
Jane Lindskold
Breaking the Wall, Book 1

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

1 comment:

J. Kaye Oldner said...

Great review. I'd suggest it to my middle son who loves this genre, but he refuses to read a book with a female on the!