Lynn Flewelling’s Tamír Triad, reviewed by Anne Petty for MYTHPRINT,
monthly bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society – April 2007, Vol. 44, NO. 4
Lynn Flewelling, Tamír Triad:
Book 1: The Bone Doll's Twin (2001, ISBN 0‐553‐
Book 2: Hidden Warrior (2003, ISBN 0‐553‐58342‐5)
Book 3: The Oracle's
Queen (2006, ISBN 0‐553‐57723‐9).
(New York: Bantam Spectra, mmpb, $7.50.)
Lynn Flewelling’s Tamír Triad is some of the most inventive and emotionally
gripping fantasy to come down the pike in years. Flewelling's muscular prose
has matured like fine wine over the decade since her first Nightrunner novel,
Luck in the Shadows, was a Locus First Novel Award nominee in 1997. Flewelling
has honed her craft, and her history of the restoration of the Skalan queens, set
centuries before the events of the Nightrunner books, is an epic feast. That
history comes vividly to life as the Tamír Triad, so named for Tamír the Great, a
warrior queen who is equal parts Joan of Arc and Celtic Boudicca.
The crux of the trilogy is the Oracle of Afra’s prophecy that “So long as a
daughter of Thelátimos’ line defends and rules, Skala shall never be subjugated.”
From that point onward, as long as the rule remained matriarchal, the country
flourished. But whenever a usurping prince managed to take the throne, the land
became blighted with plague and famine. Such is the state of affairs when the
Tamír Triad begins. Cursed kings have made certain that no females who might
inherit the throne have survived ... until now. In a collusion of wild earth magic
with intellectual Orëska wizardry, the current king’s newborn niece (daughter of
his sister, the deposed rightful heir, the doomed Princess Ariani) is secretly saved
by changing her into a boy at the moment of birth.
The saga opens on a note of dread, as one of the attending wizards recounts his
memory of that terrible moment long ago: “An infant’s cry, cut short. You might
think after so many years that it would be easier to accept; that one necessary act
of cruelty could alter the course of history like an earthquake shifts a river’s
course. But that deed, that cry, lies at the heart of all the good that came after,
like a grain of sand at the heart of a pearl’s glowing nacre.”
Flewelling’s writing is both intelligent and visceral, with an unflinching detail
that compels readers to turn pages in wide‐eyed fascination, riveted by scenes
they might wish to look away from but can’t. At the same time, however, a
strong sense of poetry runs through her narration, filling the mind’s eye with
images of great beauty amid the terrors of war and personal cruelty. Immersing
readers in sensory detail, her description of desolate rural keeps haunted by
spirits and stinking teeming cityscapes redolent of medieval London reveal the
breadth of her imagination. By the end of the trilogy, we know Skala as if we had
Book 1, The Bone Doll’s Twin, begins on familiar ground for fans of her
Nightrunner series, opening with the graying wizard Iya and her young
apprentice Arkoniel, on their way to the Oracle at Afra in the mountains of Skala.
But readers don’t need to have heard of Plenimaran necromancers, Skalan
warrior women, or Aurënfaie magic to be immediately and completely pulled
into the plight of Tobin, the ensorcelled child on whom the hopes of a civilization
ride. Character development is Flewelling’s strength, and the terrible dual nature
of young Tobin, who is male in body yet female in soul, unfolds with gentle
humor and disturbing psychological drama. We watch in fascination as he
moves toward his destiny – to shed his boy’s skin (in an incredibly rendered
scene) and become Tamír II who will restore the line of queens and heal the land.
In addition to Tobin, Flewelling introduces Brother, one of the most chilling
characters in recent fantasy fiction. Brother is Tobin’s male twin, whose body and
soul are sacrificed in order to return a female heir to the throne. Brother’s
shadow life, attached by magic gone awry to his living twin, is by turns
sorrowful and hateful in the first two books. But in Book 3, The Oracle’s Queen,
Flewelling pulls out all the stops. We are equally sorry for and repulsed by him,
as is his sibling Tobin/Tamír. It’s Brother’s haunting of and eventual revenge
upon the wizards, the hill witch, and everyone else who helped create his pitiful
state that fully reveal Flewelling’s dark‐fantasy style.
The growth of Tobin and his squire Ki from solitary children in the isolated hill
fortress of Book 1 into seasoned young warriors who face death together in Book
3 is wonderfully wrought. Even the peripheral characters who surround them
are given complexity, so that we get to know them as people rather than two-dimensional
figures of the supporting cast. For example, the villainous wizard
Niryn is given a backstory that softens his wickedness and Machiavellian
depravity. His manipulation of King Erius and his ill‐fated son Korin make
sense, as much as we may despise his methods.
Tobin’s cousin Korin, the king’s teenaged son, appears on the surface to be a
charismatic wastrel whose appetite for wine and women is eclipsed only by his
skills as a swordsman. Even so, he’s basically good‐natured, and his Royal
Companions look up to him and see him as the future king, brave and true. As
Korin’s life turns sour, however, we begin to discover other aspects of his
personality. In The Oracle’s Queen, we see his best traits turn to cowardice, guilt,
envy, and self‐doubt even as he begins to show some genuine regret over the
way his second consort, Nalia, has been used to ensure his claim to the throne.
The final moment when he meets his old companion Tobin, now Tamír, on the
battlefield for control of Skala is genuinely tragic.
Flewelling takes the stock trappings of the sword and sorcery genre – good and
evil wizards, a hidden heir to the throne, the loyal sidekick, war between rivals,
invasion by barbaric hordes, a sacked city, and a coming‐of‐age tale – and turns
them into a riveting epic story that is unique, disturbing, and enthralling. The
mark of a successful work of fiction is that it effortlessly pulls you into its world
and stays with you long after the last page is read. Flewelling’s Tamír Triad does
this in spades.
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