April 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon
Bantam-Spectra PPBK: ISBN 0553586688 PubDate: 04/06/04
Review by Madeline Yeh

576 pgs. List price $ 6.99
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Australian Fantasy Novelist Jennifer Fallon is introduced to US readers through her first book in The Second Sons trilogy, to be followed on a monthly basis by the remaining books: Eye of the Labyrinth and Lord of the Shadows. Her first series (The Demon Child Trilogy), a bestseller in Australia, was short listed for the their Aurealis Awards as the best Fantasy of 2000. The first book of that series, Medalon, is out this month from Tor. - ed

The Lion Of Senet is the first part of The Second Sons Trilogy, though it seems to start in the middle of a story. On a planet with two suns, a religious revelation and astronomical catastrophe led to the overthrow of a kingdom. Johan, king of Dhevyn, was forced off his throne by many of his nobles and Anatanov Latanya, ruler of a neighboring kingdom. Now a generation later, it is time for the children of the principals deal with the mess created by this upheaval. Two of the main characters are second sons, Dirk Provin, second son of Morna Provin who was one of King Johan's supporters, and Kirshov Latanya, second son of Anatanov Latanya the foreign invader. The most important of the principals from the previous war are still alive: Anatanov Latanya, the invader and the Lion of Senet, Johan Thorn, ex-king of Dhevyn, and Belagren, high priestess of the Goddess.

The new episode starts when Johan Thorn, ex-king and current smuggler is washed up on the island of Elcast, home of Morna Provin and her son Dirk. Anatanov (The Lion of Senet), comes to Elcast to drag Johan back to his capitol for torture and execution. Anatanov is also accompanied by his two sons, Kirshov and Misha. High Priestsess Belagren also accompanies Anatanov, hoping to force Elcast to worship the Goddess in the Senet fashion, including the annual Landfall festival with mandatory orgy, and human sacrifice. Other minor characters are introduced at this time, Marquel, an acrobat and sometime prostitute, Ella Goan, a shadow dancer, and princess Alenor, future queen of Senet.

The Lion of Senet stays for awhile on Elcast, upsetting the natives and presiding over the Landfall ceremony. When he returns to Avacas, he takes Dirk Provin as well as Johan Thorn with him. Anatanov is impressed by Dirk's mathematical ability. Also two of Johan's supporters, his stepson and adopted daughter start traveling to Avacas to rescue Johan. The book follows the actions of Dirk Provin, and Kirshov Latanya, and Marquel and Tia Veran, and occasionally Belagren and Anatanov.

This book starts out very slow and confused. Far too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the book. There are too many points of view. Neither the physical world nor the characters nor the society ever get fully developed. There are rather heavy handed clues that this is not a Fantasy universe but a scientific and rational one. That people didn't evolve on this world but colonized this from elsewhere. Problem one: How do you have a human habitable world in a multi star solar system? Problem two: If you had one, how would one sun disappear? Seventeen years ago, one sun disappeared, this "Age of Shadows" triggered Anatanov and Belagren' rise to power. Belagren preached that a royal sacrifice would bring back the second sun. Johan opposed this, and was overthrown by Anatanov and the more religious and desperate among his dukes.

Dirk Provin, the star of the trilogy, should be a very interesting character. He is described as a mathematical prodigy who has apprenticed himself to the physician Master Helgin. He is never shown as studying either math or medicine, just doing basic first aid and mathematical parlor tricks. The other people have similarly pallid characters. The villains are wonderfully evil and vicious, but are never made real. There motives and beliefs and personalities are not fleshed out. The story never dwells on the society. It has dukes and kings and bakers and butchers and herb women and doctors and sailors and smugglers and thieves, but itís impossible to tell if the society is as large and complicated and well populated as Early Renaissance or as small and primitive as Classical Greece. The planet is afflicted with frequent earthquakes and volcanoes and tidal waves, yet it is never shown how the inhabitants manage to survive, much less manage to sustain their civilization.

This is a long book with 82 chapters and 6 parts. In parts 5 and 6, Dirk meets Johan' s supporters, Tia Veran and Rethin Serinov. The three of them have desperate adventures and narrow escapes. The action and dialogue made the last third of the book tolerable, but the first two thirds of the book were very hard slogging. It was made even more annoying by various quibbles "Knitted quilt". Quilts aren't knitted they are sewn. One of the side characters is given a great treasure, a "diamond bladed knife" which he promptly loses at an orgy. Not only are diamonds too small to make a knife blade, and far too brittle, but what fool takes anything valuable to a drugged orgy?

I can't recommend this book. The action is too slow and is further broken up by too many view points, leaving you unable to get attached to any of the characters. If this is a Science Fiction world it isn't believable, if it is a Fantasy world itís too drab and boring. Though the last third of the book makes a tolerable adventure story, it isn't worth suffering through the first two thirds to get too. The writing style is competent but not beautiful, and doesn't make up for the other deficiencies.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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