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Five Odd Honors by Jane Lindskold
Cover Artist: Sam Weber
Review by Lucy Schmeidler
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317025
Date: 11 May 2010 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Five Odd Honors is the third volume of the series that started with Thirteen Orphans, but it includes enough background information to read on its own. As the story opens, the remnants of the thirteen orphans-- descendants of the twelve exiled advisors to the emperor of the Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice, and the descendant of their emperor himself-- have obtained the means to return home.

Each of the advisors is associated with one of the twelve Earthly Branches, represented by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Much of the story is told from the perspective of Brenda Morris, daughter and spiritual heir of Gaheris Morris, the current Rat. As the "Rat in Training", Brenda has some of her father's abilities, such as taking an actual rat form; she has also been getting lessons in martial arts, magical theory, and the making of amulets.

Before they can return, the exiles must get permission for five departed spirits to fill in for five advisors who do not have living descendants or whose descendants know or care nothing for the lore passed down from the Lands. The group of exiles is reinforced by some later exiles, who were sent to defeat them but would rather cooperate and return home.

Even after they reach the Lands, the exiles must negotiate a surreal landscape and pass through five barriers, corresponding to the elements of stone, water, fire, metal, and wood. And once they reach the center, they find enemies in wait for them.

Just as Lindskold associates each of the advisors with an animal of the Chinese zodiac, she associates the lore and spells of the Lands with the tiles and moves of mah-jong, probably helping readers who are familiar with the game to follow the auguries described.

Whatever a reader's background, this book and the whole series provide a delightful romp through a mythical tradition not often encountered in contemporary fantasy.

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