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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Personal Favorite from 2008: "The Immortal Prince" by Jennifer Fallon (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jennifer Fallon Website
Order "The Immortal Prince" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)
Pre-order "The Gods of Amyrantha" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)

INTRODUCTION: I encountered Ms. Fallon's work in the superb Second Sons series which is actually grand sf in the tradition of Asimov and Silverberg marketed as epic fantasy since that was "in" at the time.

After such a great read which became a personal favorite and made me a big time fan, I tried Ms. Fallon's debut, the true and tried fantasy trilogy Hythrun an epic
with some twists but still a run of the mill one and I was so-so on it.

I finished it, but only the great style of the author kept my interest to the end and I have no plans for now to read the prequel series. So despite such a great series in Second Sons I sort of stopped following Ms. Fallon's books until I got by chance a copy of The Immortal Prince, the first volume of the Tide Lords series which is another truly sf series marketed as epic fantasy. This time it has magic true, but of a very special kind as you will slowly find out.

I was hooked on the story of Cayal and Arkady and when I found out that the rest of the series has already been published in Australia to great acclaim and success (various titles being general not only genre bestsellers there for many weeks), while here in the US book 2 "The Gods of Amyrantha" comes out only this July, with the rest most likely in 2010-11, I was very annoyed. I spent quite a lot of money ordering those books from an Australian bookstore recommended on the author's website, but it was worth it since the whole Tide Lords series is just unbelievably good.

I will review "The Gods of Amyrantha" for its US debut in July and then hopefully books 3 and 4 as they will come out here in the next several years. I still think only a truly dumb marketing decision kept this series from immediate US/UK publication since this tetralogy is so good it should have been out in the larger US/UK markets asap, but that's the way it is, nothing I can do than shout loudly how much I loved the books.

OVERVIEW: On the planet of Amyrantha, civilizations rise and fall with the Cosmic Tide; of course the current civilization at roughly a pre-industrial stage does not realize it outside of cults, legends and the Tarot Cabal.

Because you see, there are the Immortals, humans that passed the "immortal flame" test, and are truly un-killable. There are not that many, especially that the Immortal Flame has been extinguished and their power rises and ebbs with the Cosmic Tide that turns irregularly at centuries intervals. When the Tide is strong, the immortals are all powerful and they become rulers, sometimes gods, but like the Olympians of the Greek legends they tend to be quite quarrelsome and in this case their fights tend to lead to stuff like throwing asteroids at each other, emptying seas to drown their sorrow and more; no wonder cataclysms ensue, the Tide ebbs, the Immortals lose their magic except for Immortality and have to lie low for many centuries, civilization is rebuilt, ruins are discovered and so it goes. Until now!

There is another twist - on Amyrantha there are not only humans, but for some thousands of years now the Crasii, a combination of human and animal that have loyalty bred in their genes and exists as a sort of servant/slave race; there are feline and canine Crasii with the expected behaviors - the felines are soldiers, guards, violent, and
sometimes unpredictable; the canines are devoted house servants, companions, loyal at all costs to their master.

There are other kinds like lizard Crasii but they are quite rare. As the legends of the Crasii say, they have been created by the Tide Lords as their personal playthings and have inbred loyalty to them except for the few "discards" - named by the kill on sight policy the immortals had towards them. After all, even with Tide Magic it is hard to conquer, not to say govern countless "regular" humans, so better have a supply of utterly loyal subjects at beck and call when the Tide turns; or so the Crasii claim to the disdain of most "learned" historians.

Cayal of Tarot Prince fame cannot take immortality anymore, especially that the Low Tide has been dragging for many centuries this time; he decides to die, or more exactly to lose his head and memories, since the body will grow back when decapitated, but as a blank slate; studying the local laws closely, he kills enough people in the Duchy of Lebec to ensure a death sentence; beheading is not trivial, so he needs it done by a pro.

Across millenniums, people came and went for Cayal so he has no qualms about killing some, though he chose ones that he claims would not be missed. However the headman is sick that day and despite Cayal's protestations he is to be hanged. The first rope breaks, the next rope holds but Cayal strangulated and dangling just does not die but keeps twisting in the air moaning, so the local authorities decide to suspend the execution and take him to prison for further investigation.

Stellan the Duke of Lebec, renowned negotiator and "nice guy" is a close relative to the stern King of Glaeba who
strongly disapproves of "moral deviancy" up to exile and worse. So some years ago, Stellan solved a huge problem by marrying beautiful but poor Arkady, daughter of a local imprisoned doctor and offering her a pardon for her father and a way out of poverty in exchange for her putting up with Stellan's occasional boyfriends and total lack of interest in marital duties.

Unfortunately the latest boyfriend, dissolute and scruple less Jaxsyn who shares a name with a reputedly ultra-moral, even pious Tarot figure, is getting more and more of a hold on Stellan, inveigling himself in the position of Crasii headmaster since he is very good at getting obeyed by them.

Arkady has a passion for learning and upon becoming the Duchess of Lebec she managed to get a history degree - even as a Duchess, getting to be a doctor like her father was totally out of the realm of possibility for a woman, but the History department starved for funds has been more amenable to educating her. So she is a natural at investigating Cayal's claims to avoid the situation exploding in Stellan's face.

Declan is the chief spy master of Glaeba; childhood friend of Arkady and possibly still loving her even after a nasty breakup when she decided to accept Stellan's offer years ago, he left for the capital and showed a talent for spy work. He caught the eye of the old chief spymaster and duly succeded him on his retirement despite his lack of noble blood.

Warlock is a jailed canine Crasii for some imagined offense; he would have been put to death anywhere else, but Stellan is mild so he is just imprisoned indefinitely; however Warlock is a "discard" so while he can smell Cayal is a "suzerain", he has no inbred loyalty to him and he
greatly enjoys insulting and annoying him when fate makes them cell neighbors.

"The Immortal Prince" stands at about 500 pages in hardcover and 600 in mmpb and it follows mostly Cayal, Arkady, Stellan, Jaxsyn, Warlock and Declan but there are quite a few other important characters that appear. In Arkady's interrogations of Cayal we have a lot of the back story of Amyrantha told to us - of course Arkady does not believe a word but enjoys greatly Cayal's tale and slowly even his charm. The story ends at a reasonable point, but it is so compelling that you will rush to get "The Gods of Amyrantha" immediately.

"The Immortal Prince" is a book that depends a lot on getting to like the characters and getting "sucked" in their world since after a while the novel and later the series is going to throw at you some unbelievable twists and turns that will make your head spin.

There is not that much direct action though the recollections of Cayal about the "literally world shattering" quarrels of the Immortals when the Tide was reaching its peak balance well the witty and smart dialogue between him and Arkady or the snarky one between him and Warlock.

The "big picture" events are only hinted in this book and there are rumbles in the background about what is going to come later, but the Tide is still low. However when it turns, it will turn fast and violently and there may be even one of those "King Tides" that occur only once every hundred thousand years or more.

"The Immortal Prince" is also a book of discovery, of many layers, you feel you have a handle on things, you find out something that puts them in a different light.

Jaxsyn is great as the "villain" we love to hate and we have to feel sympathy for poor Stellan who adores the rogue only to be manipulated at each turn, but the Duke may have some unexpected fortitude.

The one major character that has a limited role here hinting only at further developments is Declan. He appe
ars distant and cold, a true spymaster, but as we slowly discern the whys and hows of his life, he is slowly starting his evolution into the third keystone character of the series from later volumes.

"The Immortal Prince" as Cayal and Arkady's book to a large extent brings the best in both of them with Cayal slowly becoming fascinated by the feisty Duchess, while Arkady trying hard to discredit Cayal's wild tales only to find herself possibly falling for the handsome but selfish "Prince". However it all depends on their being together and when events conspire to separate them, reality asserts itself and well, that would be telling...

The world building is also very well done, but again expect the unusual, the far-reaching even if you think "no way", "this" cannot hint at "that", so avoid spoilers.

Regarding re-reading the series once I know how it turns out: "The Immortal Prince" and the "The Chaos Crystal (#4)" are my favorites and I re-read them quite a few times already and I still love them. Books 2 and 3, The Gods of Amyrantha and "The Palace of Impossible Dreams" have some great passages that I re-read a lot, and I still find some of the twists and turns amazing each time, but the political manipulations that take a more central place there have less of an interest to me overall

So read "The Immortal Prince" and "The Gods of Amyrantha" now and get immersed into the wonderful world of Arkady and Cayal!!


The Reader said...

Hey Liviu

This is a very good review Thanks for posting this, this series is truly a special one because of its huge cats and the amount of twists the author has managed to sneak in between ll the books. I'm still waiting to read the 4th book as I have read the 1st three.

Lets hope the reaining three books get published faster over here.


Anonymous said...

I hope you've reconsidered reading the Wolfblade Trilogy, because it is actually as good as Second Sons. There were problems when she was writing the original Hythrun Trilogy because it was her first, but all those are gone in the prequels, and it focuses on Damin Wolfblade's family rather than what's going on in Medalon. Plus, you know, sequels coming out too...


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