, August 07, 2014
(view all comments by emmejo)
Skala was traditionally ruled by queens, but when Erius took over the throne, that changed. When his first child was a son, it seemed certain that the days of warrior queens were over, as every possible female heir, no matter how distant a cousin, mysteriously died. When the king's sister-in-law is about to give birth, her husband calls on three powerful wizards and witches to help prevent his child's death as well. Twins are born, but only one can survive and the newborn daughter is disguised as her dead twin brother. Tobin grows up lonely in a remote castle with a paranoid father, insane mother and the violent, angry ghost of his twin. But the king's nephew can't be hidden forever, and the same magically gifted people who made Tobin's new identity now have to figure out how to introduce him to the world.
I first heard of this book as one of the very few fantasy series that approaches having a transgender main character. Certainly, we see elements that show Tobin's struggle with gendered expectations as a small child, followed by a later stubborn refusal to seem feminine, but we only really get a glimpse of fluctuating gender at the end of the book. I suspect the next book will get more into gender issues, since Tobin is only just starting puberty here and a kid is pretty much a kid, regardless of which gender they are assigned.
I also felt a little irritated at some of the author's choices of things that show Tobin is a girl at heart, even if she is physically male. A fondness for dolls, fainting at the sight of blood after a first hunting trip and no interest in flirting with girls are all presented as signs that Tobin is female, which are pretty sexist, hetronormative things to choose.
On the other hand, we have some gay side characters who I felt were handled quite well, and I liked the open acceptance bisexuality and that sexuality fluctuates with Tharin's discussion of the fact that his lover (who I won't name here so as to avoid spoilering someone) "grew out" of his relationship and ended up falling in love with a woman. It's too bad these flexible definitions weren't used for Tobin's character.