I've been a fan of Jennifer Fallon's since I first picked up one of her books, and I've grabbed every one of her new novels almost as soon as they have been published. She gives the reader an almost perfect mixture of fantasy and politics; Warrior, second book in the Wolfblade Trilogy, is an excellent example. The first book, Wolfblade, starts out a little slow, especially for anybody who hasn't read the previous trilogy. Warrior does not have this problem – it starts with a bang and never lets the reader go. Fallon portrays characters we care about deeply, and the climax is just stunning. This could easily be Fallon's best book yet, though there are many contenders.
Damin Wolfblade, heir to the throne of Hytheria if his perverted uncle Lernan ever dies, must stay alive until that day, which won't be easy. Alija Eaglespike, High Arrion of the Sorcerers' Collective, has been plotting for years to place either her husband or, now, her son Cyrus, on the throne instead, and only Damin's elimination will do that. Marla Wolfblade, Damin's mother, plays a ruthless game of politics (both gender and otherwise) to ensure Damin survives and earns his place. She's learned that doing things out of love doesn't get you anywhere in this world, but when did she turn into this cold, merciless woman? And what effect will it have on all of her plans? Is Damin the young carouser who doesn't care about anything but his own pleasure (even though he doesn't have Lernan's perversions), or is there something hiding underneath that party-going exterior? Plans beget more plans, and love just can't enter the picture when class and politics are involved. That could be the ultimate tragedy in some of the family's lives.
Once again, Fallon shows that she can craft intricate plots with relationships all over the map and bring them all together in a way that makes sense. The politics of Hythria can be very complicated, with the various provinces and their warlords, and what the age of ascension is, but the reader understands all of it when it's presented this clearly. Even better is that Fallon doesn't resort to info-dumps; all of the information comes out in conversations between the characters, sometimes as their plans go awry. We also get a little bit of Fardohnyan politics as well, but only as it relates to Hythria. This series rewards the readers of the Demon Child trilogy by showcasing all of the political intricacies and characters featured in that series and showing us how they came to be in that position. Thus, followers of Fallon's books do have an edge on those who pick this trilogy up cold, but everything is explained in such exquisite detail that it doesn't matter very much.
Fallon's characterization skills are still top-notch as well. Warrior has a sprawling cast of characters, but all of them are distinctly three-dimensional, and she succeeds in making us care about all of them (or despise them, but that's intentional). Damin is front and center, and we see him grow into a young man who still likes to have fun but knows that he is being groomed for something bigger, who has learned politics at the skirts of an expert (as well as Marla's slave, the dwarf Elezaar). He's much more intelligent than he lets on; even his family members have underestimated him. Fallon shows it to the reader, though, and it's a wonder to behold when he starts demonstrating it to everybody else as well. The book begins when he is a child of ten but soon jumps to his early twenties, and the contrast is startling. While Damin is clearly the best, Fallon does the same with all of the other characters as well, not making a misstep on any one of them.
Fallon's prose makes readers want to continue no matter what other pressing engagement they might have (like sleep). Combine that with the wonderful characters, and you get a last 100 pages of the book that are almost impossible to put down. She builds the relationships so well that when something happens to the characters you've come to love, it really affects you. When Elezaar finds out that loyalty and "the Rules of Gaining and Wielding Power" don't always mean everything when family is involved, it's almost sad. In fact, the last sequence involving Elezaar and Marla actually did make me tear up, and it's been a while since that has happened in a book. Add that to the situation between Damin's cousin Leila and her commoner lover, especially when her father finds out, and the finale of this book is explosive. Everything has changed now, and Fallon sets the reader up for a rollicking final book in the trilogy.
One aspect of Fallon's prose is the dramatic irony of having some of her characters believing and commenting on things that we know not to be true, having seen the other side of it. For example, Alija often goes on about how she has fooled the simpleton Marla into thinking that she is a friend of the family's and how she would help Marla in any way she could. She believes that Marla has no idea that she's been behind all of the assassination attempts on Damin. Yet the reader knows that the Wolfblade family members have all had a mind-shield installed by a magician named Wrayan Lightfinger so that Alija can't read their true thoughts. Fallon uses this kind of irony in other situations as well, so some may say she overuses it. While that may be true, I know it gave me shivers every time I read a passage like this.
Warrior is a wonderful book, and I can't recommend it highly enough. When the only fault worth mentioning is that one of Alija's assassination attempts is something so stupid that she should know it has no chance of working and seems to be put in book for reasons of artificially moving the story forward, that's a great read. Give this one a try today, but after Wolfblade.