The Bone Doll's Twin

by Lynn Flewelling

Cover image

Series: Tamir the Great #1
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: October 2001
ISBN: 0-553-57723-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 524

Buy at Powell's Books

This book did not have an auspicious start. There's a medieval society, a group of powerful wizards, a line of royal succession that's been broken resulting in a curse on the land, and a hidden royal heir. All the signs were there for generic extruded fantasy product. I was particularly annoyed when the book opened up with a table of the alternate month names used in the book, all of which map pretty much directly to regular months. Why? If the month is April, why give it a different name? It doesn't help the atmosphere. It just annoys the reader.

The initial impression wasn't particularly wrong, as there's a great deal of very generic fantasy in this book. However, it did end up also having some unexpected and rather nice twists.

The central concept of this book is that the royal heir is hidden, not by hiding her with a peasant family, but by concealing her gender. The prophecy calls for a queen and the evil king is killing all the women in the royal line, so the true heir is magically transformed into a boy. No punches are pulled with this either — she believes herself to be male, grows up male, and has no idea that he's not truly male.

While there isn't quite as much exploration of gender themes as there could be given this premise, I was favorably impressed. The story is very character-driven, and rather than starting with the coming of age journey for the main character, it traces her whole childhood, giving you a chance to really get to know her and her family and understand her view of the world.

Another plus for the story is that, early on, an evil demon ghost is created, tied strongly to the main character, but then this doesn't play out as anticipated. Tobin ends up bonding to it, starting to understand and use it's abilities, and even befriending it, even though the ghost remains rather creepy. This wasn't what I expected, and it made the story deeper and more interesting.

That being said, there's still a lot of very generic fantasy here. The earth witches are sex-focused. The good, intellectual wizards who are guiding the main character towards her destiny are chaste (mostly), long-lived, and focused on learning. The end of the book turns into a more traditional growing-up school story, complete with evil guardians and mean peers to deal with. And this is very much the first book of a trilogy; the ending is not quite a cliffhanger, but it's not satisfying either.

This isn't a bad book. It succeeds in being darker and better characterized than most generic fantasy, and it held my attention. But it doesn't set itself that far apart from the typical fantasy novel.

Followed by Hidden Warrior.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-09-27

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21