Friday, March 23, 2007

Review: Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Fantasy fiction’s had some interesting cross-pollination things happening in the last decade. You’ve got people like Gene Wolf using the tropes of quest fantasy to create literary masterworks like Knight. There’s also Lois McMaster Bujold, who with her current series The Sharing Knife uses quest fantasy as a backdrop for tales of love. And then there’s Jennifer Fallon, who’s been creating political thrillers that just happen to be set in a world of swords, wizards and thieves guilds.

Fallon’s new novel Warlord, book three in her Wolfblade Trilogy, continues the education and rise to power of Damin Wolfblade, prince and heir to throne of the Hythria. Damin faces his most difficult challenge yet; he must call upon all his training and natural abilities to lead an army against the superior forces of an empire invading the borders of his homeland. Back on the home front, Damin’s mother Marla finds herself pitted against powerful political forces threatening to destroy both Damin’s claim to the throne as well as their entire family. And the success of everyone rests on the shoulders of Damin’s childhood friend, the revenge-seeking thief Starros, and his plot to take down Mahkas, the most tyrannical Warlord in Hythria, by stealing all of Mahkas’s subjects out from under him.

The two previous volumes of the series delivered tightly plotted stories of political intrigue mixed into a world of fantasy, but the tales often fell a little flat at the end when they failed to provide a powerful ending. The political intrigue still works as Fallon’s focus, but she’s provided enough action through warfare and bloody assassinations that it makes up for what her other books lacked. Damin himself is a compelling character; despite some of the conniving things he does it's hard not to like him. Plus it’s fun to watch him grow from a still somewhat naïve young man into someone fully in control of his abilities.

The layers upon layers of plots and subplots will likely bore readers craving a basic hack-and-slash adventure, but anyone searching for fantasy-based tales that build tension through subtle subtext will find much to enjoy here. Warlord will appear in stores in August of 2007.


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