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The Bone Doll's Twin    by Lynn Flewelling order for
Bone Doll's Twin
by Lynn Flewelling
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2001 (2001)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sometimes a book cover blurb entices me in and I'm disappointed by the contents. At others the blurb delays my enjoyment of an exciting new author, as was the case when I initially picked up The Bone Doll's Twin. It is much better than the writeup makes it sound. A clue I overlooked was the 'Thoroughly engrossing' commendation from George R. R. Martin, author of the stark series A Song of Ice and Fire.

A wizard looks back on past actions, 'filth at the heart of this pearl', that shame him, though they resulted in centuries of peace, prosperity and safety for wielders of magic. We then see a young Arkoniel, apprenticed to Iya, consulting an oracle that leads them to a vile act. For, as a result of the usual prophecy (a handy device in fantasy series) the king has been systematically murdering his female relatives, except for one half sister who is about to give birth to twins. His Harriers have also been killing wizards and priests who might oppose his rule.

The foul act committed by the otherwise well intentioned wizards is to kill the baby boy and, through an exchange of skin managed with the aid of a wood witch (Lhel is much more than she seems), reverse the appearance of the children, in order to safeguard the destiny of the girl child (whom they name Tobin) and the future of the realm. But the spirit of the dead child lingers and is not happy. Neither is his mother, princess Ariani, who is aware of what has happened and keeps him close.

Tobin grows up in a lonely mountain keep with a mad mother, a beloved father, and the angry ghost of her murdered brother. Though this may not sound like an unusual fantasy plot, the child's emotions and perspective are extremely well done, as is the relationship that develops between Tobin and Brother. Eventually Arkoniel arrives (Lhel has been nearby all along) to tutor Tobin, who is already being trained in the arts of war. Arkoniel also arranges for a squire named Ki - from the large family of a poor knight - who becomes Tobin's close friend.

Eventually, the king (away at war) insists that Tobin join his cousin Korin's Companions at the capital of Ero, risking the revelation of his / her identity. There are conflicts with other boys and chancy encounters with the head of the king's Harriers, and then Tobin's childhood ends, risking both her secret and her friend. The Bone Doll's Twin has a fresh and fascinating plot, well realized in a most unusual coming of age, and I'm dying to read the sequel Hidden Warrior this summer.

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