Mother of Lies
by Dave Duncan
Edited by Liz Gorinsky
Cover Artist: Daniel Dos Santos
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765314843
Date: 15 May, 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Dave Duncan writes light fantasy but puts a bit more thought into his worldbuilding and magic systems than do most writers of similar work. Mother of Lies even has an appendix describing how the dodecahedral (12 sided) world of the book could and could not work. Mother of Lies is a continuation of Children of Chaos, really the two books are both halves of one long novel. No one should read Mother of Lies without first reading Children of Chaos.
The books are set on a magical world where each person pledges him or herself to one god in the overall pantheon. That god bestows certain powers on a person but also a weakness. So followers of Ucr get the ability to make a lot of money but can never be happy. Followers of Weru, the storm god, are warriors who can change shape but grow less and less human every time they heal. Followers of Mayn, goddess of wisdom are seers but are not allowed to intervene in events. And there is Xaran, goddess of death and evil who gives her Chosen the power to control others. Worshippers who are special favorites of their god/goddess can request special favors beyond these general powers.
In the first book of the series, the ruler of Celebre, the major city in Florengia, is forced to surrender his four children to the Vigaelian invaders in order to save his city. The four grow up separately, in different parts of the Vigaelia. Fifteen years later, Benard has grown up to become an artist and the secret lover of Ingeld, wife of Horold, the city ruler and one of the children of Hrag, the villains of the book. Orlad became one of the shapechanging warriors, fervently loyal to the Vigaelian warleaders until the chief Therek Hragson, who hates all the Florengians, tried to have him killed. Then, Orlad, and the group of warriors he was training, rebel and kill Therek instead. Fabia grew up as the adopted daughter of a wealthy merchant, but secretly pledged herself to serve Xaran. And Dantio has become a seer. In Children of Chaos, when the ruler of Celebre becomes sick, his hostage children suddenly became important. Ultimately, after each had adventures on their own, all four meet. Dantio threw off his disguise and said that all four of them had the rare seasoning, a sign that they had a destiny that could change the flavor of their world.
The second book, Mother of Lies, picks up from there without even a recap of the first book. In Florengia, warrior Marno Cavotti is leading a mutiny against Bloodlord Stralg Hragson, the invader who sent the four Celebre children away. The children's father, as his dying words, says that his throne should go to the "winner," without specifying the winner of what. And, unknown to the four Celebre children, they have a half brother – the son of their mother and the Bloodlord Stralg – who wants the throne for himself. Meanwhile in Vigaelia, Bernard hatches a plan to free his beloved Ingeld from the evil Horold. The other three children decide to return to Celebre, before the villainous Saltaja can rejoin her brother, combining their menace. But this still leaves the question, even if they can survive the dangerous crossing over the edge of the world, which of them will become the ruler of Celebre?
Clearly there is a lot going on in these books with multiple main characters. Fortunately, characterization is a strong point of Dave Duncan; the four Celebre siblings are each distinct characters, not just the stereotype of their profession. Dantio, although frequently the otherworldly artist, has moments of deep insight and is willing to give up his art for love. Orlad believes in the warrior's code but shifts sides when his loyalty to the Vigaelians and his excellent leadership is repaid by treachery. And Fabia, although she can be cruel, as when she forces her foster father to allow her to return to her homeland, worries that worshipping the death goddess and using her powers will turn her as evil as Saltaja, the Queen of Shadows who is the major villain of the second book. The four are believable as siblings too with their squabbling rivalry, but still a willingness to support each other.
Fans of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkin, and David Eddings should give Duncan a look, as he writes similar light fantasy adventure and books that follow the traditional conventions of medievalesque fantasy, but with greater quality and extra care to the background. Children/Mother is a good way for readers to be introduced to Duncan. The two books are not as widely ranging as his Man of His Word series nor as philosophical as his Great Game trilogy. But they are fun entertainments, perfect for summer escapist reading. But Mother of Lies does not stand alone, you need to read Children of Chaos first. Fortunately, it's already out in paperback.