It's not often that a new writer explodes on the scene with book after wonderful book that just takes your breath away. Of course, it helps when the author in question has been writing for a few years in another country and her books are just now coming to North American shores. Such is the case of Jennifer Fallon, whose "Second Sons" trilogy has just been published in its entirety in North America. Also, the first book of the "Hythrun Chronicles" has also been published, Medalon. Unfortunately for me, Tor has decided that they don't want to saturate the market and will thus be publishing them once a year. It will be a while before we're caught up. I loved the "Second Sons" trilogy so much that I had to read Medalon, which is actually the first book that she had written. How does it measure up? Not quite as good as the "Second Sons" trilogy, but much better than other first novels.
The Sisterhood of the Blade rules Medalon ruthlessly, stamping out any hint of heathen beliefs. With the First Sister having just been assassinated, Joyhinia thinks that she is going to be named head of the church. When that doesn't happen, she works a scheme to make it happen. Her daughter R'Shiel and her son Tarja get caught up in it and find themselves on the run. They fall in with a rebellion against the Sisterhood, and end up even deeper in a massive change that will befall the world. Brak, a Harshini outcast, brings news that the Harshini, long thought dead, may be coming back. And worse, R'Shiel may be the Demon Child that has been foretold. War may be coming to the world, religious or political, with R'shiel and Tarja caught in the middle.
Fallon has created yet another fascinating world, with the various politics and religions thought out and explained. There's Medalon with the Sisterhood, the Hythrun who believe in all of the gods, and Karien, where the War God is the only God, and worshipers of all others must fall to the sword. The Harshini, long thought wiped out, commune with the gods and even have some power (at least of persuasion) over them. The world these people live on seems so real, and the events of the novel follow logically.
Fallon does wonderful work with the characters as well, with almost all of them being perfectly three-dimensional. R'Shiel and Tarja are especially good protagonists, with R'Shiel understandably having trouble accepting her parentage, especially considering her upbringing as the daughter of an ambitious Sister. Tarja has been exiled and is brought back at R'Shiel's insistence (though Joyhinia fought it every step of the way). He's a great military leader and an extremely intelligent man. I did find that R'Shiel's attitude during Tarja and her initial flight from the capital grating and shrill. She seemed just a little too haughty, but she did mellow a bit as the story went on. Jenga, the captain of the Defenders, is also quite well done, considering he doesn't have a major role (at least not in the first book). Joyhinia has him under her thumb because she knows the truth about Jenga's brother and is quite willing to reveal it if Jenga moves against her.
The gods are great characters, too. The goddess of love (I won't name them because some of them travel in disguise and thus naming them would be a spoiler) adds complications as she casts a spell on R'Shiel and Tarja that can only make matters worse. The god of thieves is mischievous but can help matters if Brak manipulates him well enough. All of the gods have just a touch of dimension that makes them stand out, and they are never boring.
Sadly, the only character who doesn't quite work is Joyhinia. Being the main villain of the piece, that's a let-down, but she is just this side of two-dimensional. She's the typical power-hungry woman who won't let anything stand in her way. She's ruthless, willing to torch a whole village to keep a secret safe. She rants and she raves and she really isn't that interesting. If Jenga and his other Defenders weren't so beholden to their honor and their oaths, it would be a wonder that they would obey her at all, as she is quite clearly out for her own power at the expense of the Sisterhood and its Defenders.
Whether it's the lack of a credible villain or perhaps the quality of writing, Mdalon didn't grip me like the "Second Sons" trilogy did. Perhaps that's the fault of the book being Fallon's first, but I didn't have the incredible urge to finish that I did with the other series. Don't get me wrong - the prose is very good, although less polished,, and the situation interesting; just not as interesting as it could be. Still, for a first book it is quite good. It shows flashes of brilliance at times and definitely indicates Fallon's potential. I wonder if perhaps my thoughts on Mdalon have been influenced a little by reading her subsequent work first?
Whatever way it is, I can thoroughly recommend Mdalon, and I can't wait for the next book to come out.