Book Review: The Tamir Triad (Lynn Flewelling)

Review: The Tamir Triad (The Bone Doll’s Twin, Hidden Warrior, The Oracle Queen) by Lynn Flewelling
Fantasy – Trilogy

At the behest of an Oracle, the nation of Skala has been ruled by a line of warrior queens for centuries—until an usurper steals his younger sister’s throne, and outbreaks of war, disease, and famine begin plaguing the country. As the new king solidifies his power, women in the royal line start dying off under mysterious circumstances. So when the king’s sister gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, their parents enlist the help of magic to switch their bodies. In the process, they sacrifice their infant son so that their daughter might live to take back the throne and set things right.

One of the first things I did when I started this project was solicit recommendations from my most trusted sources…. My two younger sisters, who tend to have the exact same taste as me in just about everything. So when they both gave glowing endorsements of Lynn Flewelling, I immediately borrowed The Bone Doll’s Twin… and when it ended on a cliffhanger, I just kept going. And that is how I accidentally ended up reading the entire trilogy without taking time to stop and review each individual book.

So obviously, I really, really enjoyed these books. They have many of my favourite things: magic, ghosts, a diverse cast of characters, a warrior princess, great thematic cohesion, even a romance that I actually cared about! Tobin (the girl disguised as a boy, and the book’s protagonist) is particularly well-written. At first, she comes across as lonely, strange, and just slightly off, as one might expect growing up in isolation with a mother driven mad by guilt and the specter of her murdered brother for company. And I don’t mean this figuratively: Brother, the twisted spirit of Tobin’s nameless sibling, still haunts their home, terrorizing the living people connected to his death.

As Tobin (for the most part) grows out of her childhood awkwardness, we get a touching coming of age story as she parses through questions of morality, loyalty, gender identity, and family… All happily accompanied by swords, wizards, witches, oracles, dark magic, and (especially in Book 3, The Oracle’s Queen) epic battles. While Tobin carries the series, strangely enough it was Brother who ended up being my favourite character. He is an unpredictable presence in Tobin’s life, sometimes respecting and listening to her, other times tormenting her. He knows, even when Tobin doesn’t, that he was sacrificed so that she could live, and his feelings toward her seem to be a complex mix of anger, jealousy, and protectiveness. The result is a creepy yet poignant relationship.

The Tamir Triad opens with the murder of a baby boy, in which his own parents are complicit, and it is our ‘heroes’ who commit this travesty. The specter of that death haunts the series, with Brother’s presence serving as a constant reminder that Tobin wears her dead twin’s body. Those responsible for Brother’s death each grapple with what they have done in their own way, some achieving more peace of mind than others. Meanwhile, some of the Tobin’s enemies are sympathetic and tragic characters… and we know, as surely as Tobin knows, that revealing her true identity would launch Skala into a bloody civil war. In short, The Tamir Triad is constantly challenging us to consider whether we can truly justify, politically and morally, the actions of our heroes.

Sometimes if you get particularly engrossed in a book (or TV series, or video game) you will suffer from a bit of post-book depression when you finish. You so badly want the book to continue that you would happily read about the minutiae of the characters’ day to day life; you would be thrilled to get a sequel about them just cooking dinner or buying furniture or mucking the stables. So it was with The Tamir Triad for me. It felt like I was losing a friend when I turned the last page…. And I think that is the highest compliment I can pay this trilogy.

Note: You may notice that discussion of the book’s treatment of gender is conspicuously absent from this review, in spite of it being a central to the premise of this trilogy. This is because I have WAY TOO MANY thoughts (some positive, and some critical) on that matter for this review to remain a reasonable length, and so I anticipate addressing this matter in a separate entry.

Another Note: I struggled with what name and pronoun to use for the main character in this review. I ended up deciding on Tobin because, if someone were to pick up the book after reading this review, that is who they would be introduced to… but I also decided to use the female pronoun, since Tobin/Tamir ultimately identifies as female and I want to reflect that. Hence, for those who have already read these books, the mix of male name/female pronoun.

If you like ____ you might want to pick up The Tamir Triad:

  • Character-driven stories
  • Unique twists on the ‘chosen one’ trope
  • Discussion of gender identity
  • Heroes with some moral ambiguity
  • Epic fantasy

You might want to pass on The Tamir Triad if:

  • You dislike dark fantasy settings (though on a scale of 1 to A Song of Ice and Fire, The Tamir Triad is only about a 7)
  • Honestly? I can’t think of anything else. You should probably read these books.

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