22. Talyn (A Novel of Korre) by Holly Lisle. 524p. Published August 2005.
This book was recommended to me by fellow blogger Fyrefly. Despite how prolific Lisle is in fantasy, and how often she co-write with some of my favorite authors, I’d never read one of her books before.
Talyn is the story of its namesake, Talyn Wyran av Tiirsha dryn Straad. This isn’t just Talyn’s name – it is her history, lineage, and connection to her people. Talyn is Tonk, a race that, while settled down from life as nomadic tribes, hold tightly to its traditions. and the Tonk have been at war for 300 years with the Eastils, a kingdom occupying the opposite side of their continent. Talyn and her people are bound to the war by honor, kinship, and religion, and philosophy. While much of the fighting is over certain land rights, the clash between the Tonk democratic city-states and the Eastil representative republic is largely political and religious.
Talyn herself was drafted into the Tonk army as a young girl, her gift for magic marking her as one of the elite Shielders. Able to step into the View, Talyn and other Magics can bend the essence of life to defend from and attack Eastil Magics.
But this war that has raged for 300 years comes to a sudden halt as the Feegash, a race respected both for its elite army and diplomatic skills, brokers peace between the countries. The resulting disarmament leaves Talyn and the other warriors in shock, and many of them go overseas for promising jobs around the world. Talyn herself embraces her hobby as a jeweler and tries to come to grips with being a warrior in peace time. She is soon visited by Skirmig, a Feegash diplomat, and finds herself strongly attracted to him. Despite her own misgivings, Talyn begins a relationship with Skirmig and he begins to teach her Feegash magic, a cousin to her own abilities.
Taking a break from lessons, Talyn roams outside and is confronted by an Eastil ex-soldier. He fears his friends have been kept prisoner, not released like the rest at the end of the war. Talyn uses Skirmig and his position to have the prisoners released, and hides them in her own house. But to do so, Talyn must do Skirmig a favor and move in with him. Soon Talyn discovers that something is wrong with Skirmig and the other Feegash – they are amoral and relish pain and suffering. And yet she can do nothing, for Skirmig has magically subverted her will to forget the depravities of his people. Skirmig hopes that, as they continue her training in Feegash magic, she will realize that good and evil are petty concepts.
But Talyn stumbles upon something during their training, and a melding of her magics and Feegash releases her from Skirmig’s hold. But not his grasp, and Talyn undergoes horrible torture at the hand of Skirmig and his servants. Thankfully she is soon rescued by Gair – one of the Eastil prisoners, now recovered, and the two escape while the city burns down around them. Skirmig, enraged by her betrayal, has unleashed his army, who quickly trample the disarmed populace and secures them under his magic compulsion.
Talyn must now lead the fight against Skirmig and his hordes, her only weapons are the magic she has developed and Gair, an enemy bound to her by a common foe. But to do so Talyn must come to terms with her fears, her gods, and her own involvement in the fall of her people.
Lisle manages to pack an amazing story into these 500 pages. The world, people, and language of Korre, raw and alien to the reader at the start of the novel, soon becomes familiar. The story, while oddly paced, is captivating in its description of Talyn and her plight. But I must warn you, the fantasy here is some of the darkest I’ve ever read; definitely adult in nature. Lisle’s depictions of the emotions, actions, and perditions of Talyn are… striking.
In writing Talyn, Lisle merges dark fantasy with equal parts political/moral philosophy and dime-store trashy romance. While reading the book, I found myself comparing Talyn more to the science fiction novels of the 50s and 60s than modern depthless fantasy. And frankly, it was refreshing. Before this book, A Song of Ice and Fire had been as mature as mainstream fantasy had been willing to get. My thanks to Fyrefly for the recommendation; I look forward to the upcoming sequel.
Rating: 5 out of 5