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Thirteen Orphans: Breaking the Wall    by Jane Lindskold order for
Thirteen Orphans
by Jane Lindskold
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Thirteen Orphans: Breaking the Wall is an excellent beginning to a new urban fantasy series by Jane Lindskold. Its premise is that a pivotal historical event in ancient China resulted in the creation of a parallel world, the Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice. A dynastic power grab there resulted in 'the exile of the Twelve and the creation of the Thirteen Orphans', each with powers and characteristics of animals from the Chinese zodiac. These advisors were exiled to Earth.

We meet young heroine, Brenda Morris, as she travels with her father Gaheris to an unknown (to her) destination. Her dad is taking her to meet Albert Yu, whom he's known most of his life, planning to explain her heritage to Breni after this meeting. Unfortunately, things don't go as expected - before they arrive, Albert is attacked with an unusual magical device, a strip of paper on which Chinese characters have been painted. This takes from him all memories except those that relate to his mundane life. Gaheris calls Brenda's Auntie Pearl (once child actress Pearl Bright) who recounts the history of the Thirteen Orphans. Pearl explains that Gaheris is the Rat and she the Tiger, and discusses how they use mah-jong.

Concerned about the other Orphans, Pearl and Gaheris (accompanied by Brenda) seek them out. They gather to their cause the Dog, the Rooster, and the Rabbit, but lose Gaheris's memories to the same kind of attack that took Albert's. Oddly (as this should not have happened) Brenda seems to have acquired some of the Rat's magics. Des Lee, the Rooster, teaches the less experienced Orphans how to create and store magics for later use. When the enemy (a very attractive Tiger) attacks again, they turn the tables on him, taking his memories and capturing him. They call him Foster and ultimately use him as bait to contact his (Dragon and Snake) associates, leading to surprising revelations.

Thirteen Orphans: Breaking the Wall makes an inviting start to this new series. The formation of the parallel world and the type of magic is unique and the characters engaging, with just enough conflict to keep them interesting. As this first episode ends, Brenda's side have formed an uneasy alliance with their attackers, an even more dangerous enemy gathering forces in the wings. I recommend this new series to you and look forward to the next episode.

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