Wednesday, July 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Tamir Trilogy by Lynn Flewelling

The Tamir Trilogy is truly a ‘proper’ trilogy – that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, interconnected books.


Book 1 (The Bone Doll's Twin) sets-up the story and sends us on our way. In an age of plague and war, a girl child is destined to take her place as the rightful Queen, to reunite the people, and to bring peace back to the land. To thwart this prophecy and ensure his continued rule, the King carefully monitors all noble births and arranges to have the female children murdered.

When a daughter is born into the king’s family, the odds of her escaping notice (much less death) are decidedly bleak. However, there is another child – a boy – sharing their mother’s womb. Sadly, for one to live (and rule), the other must die. An act of darkest magic binds the twins together, concealing Tobin's true gender with that of her brother. Fittingly, for night of such dark magic, events do not go as planned. The boy child, who was to be declared stillborn, draws a single breath before his life is cut short.

That bleak mistake leaves the future queen tormented by the angry ghost of her death brother, drives their father into near-exile, and sets their unwitting mother on the path to madness and death.

This is a dark, creepy, and deeply unsettling story that will have you questioning whether the end ever really can justify the means. Prince Tobin is brought up believing herself to be a boy, with only her father, her nanny, and a trio of wizards privy to the truth. We watch as she grows up, alone, isolated from the world, trapped in the confines of a gothic castle.

Perhaps not surprisingly for an author who so tenderly dealt with the intricacies of bisexual romance in her Nightrunner Series, Lynn Flewelling does an absolutely masterful job of handling Tobin’s growing gender conflict. As readers who know the secret, the very subtle cues as to Tobin’s true gender are as clear as they are heartbreaking, even while it remains completely conceivable how others can remain oblivious. Transgender readers especially will sympathise with Tobin’s plight. For us, the cure may be surgical rather than magical, but we are no less trapped in the wrong sex than her.

Book 2 (Hidden Warrior) continues the story, as Tobin tries to fit in at court with her cousin, the Prince, the other noble children, and their squires. By this point in the trilogy, Tobin knows the truth about herself, leaving her to not only to cope with her own destiny, but to struggle with a secret that threatens to change everything and everyone around herself.

While not as dark and gothic as the first volume, this one is equally as bleak. We see a young ‘boy’ struggling with the knowledge that he’s really a ‘girl’ inside, and fighting the thoughts and feelings of the one, which do not mesh with the other. Confusing matters further is Tobin’s awkward relationship with Ki, his long-time, faithful squire. By the end of this second volume, it’s clear that they have feelings for one another, even if one can’t express them and the other can’t really understand them. In Ki, we find the friend every tgirl craves – never have I loved a supporting character more.

Once again, for transgender readers, Tobin’s emerging conflicts really hit home, and are handled beautifully. It’s a heartbreaking struggle to witness (and to share), but there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. We get the sense that the truth truly will set her free.

Book 3 (The Oracle's Queen) brings all the threads together for a triumphant conclusion. War comes to the kingdom, forcing an end to the awkward stasis that has plagued the land. When the King is slain, Prince Korin must take the throne, having already proven himself a poor choice to lead the land in battle. In order to save the realm from Korin's failings (and the greater failings of his court wizard), Tobin must reveal herself to the world and declare herself Queen Tamir.

Even though we, as readers, know it’s coming – it's inevitable, in fact – the dissolution of the magic, revealing Tobin as Tamir, is absolutely breathtaking. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, and (for the sake of regal legitimacy) it’s very much public. This is an act that needs to be witnessed, and witnessed it is! If her coming out doesn't leave you in tears, then you have my condolences for your absent heart.

Sadly, this magical moment does not mark an end to Tamir’s suffering. If anything, it adds to it. Many across the kingdom refuse to believe it, either accusing her (ironically) of being a boy in drag, or simply distrusting the magic used to disguise her for so many years. I have no idea whether Flewelling has any transgender friends, or whether she intended to so accurately mirror the experience of a modern day transsexual, but she does a magnificent job.

I don’t want to go much further than I already have with the spoilers, other than to declare my love (once again) for Ki – the best friend a tgirl could as for. Suffice to say, I loved this trilogy more than I could have hoped, and strongly recommend it. It’s not just a great transgender story, it’s a great story . . . period.

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