Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Talyn by Holly Lisle

Talyn is a Tonk magical soldier in the Confederacy of Hyre. For 300 years, the Tonks have been at war with the Republic of the Eastils, over the rich lands that divide their countries. Each believes the other side are Barbarians, and each want nothing more than to conquer the other and bring some civilization to the other side, although the Eastils want to "civilize" the Tonks a bit more than the Tonks do, as they just really want to be left in peace.

Talyn is a shielder, one who protects her country from magical attacks launched by the Eastils. When she gets tired of the war, she can ask for a breeder exception and have children for the Tonk army, who will probably be magically talented as she is. That's what her mother and father did, and they had fourteen children between them, an unprecedented number.

But now rumor have come of a peace negotiated by the Feegash, a people that have always remained neutral from any war. They have offered to negotiate a peace settlement between both countries, and oversee it with their own troops, until both countries form an integrated whole. It is not until an Eastil attack on the Tonk leaders who have gathered to talk about the offer that the offer is accepted. Talyn is one of the troops who are on guard against an Eastil attack that they know is coming there, and she manages to bump into one of the Feegash while looking for the Eastils from a metaphysical area called "The View" to find that the Feegash man is calm and clear, rather like what the Tonks would consider a saint to be like, and she is intrigued. They speak mind to mind for a short time before she continues her task.

The Eastil soldiers fight when they are discovered, but three of them are captured and taken prisoner by the Tonks whom they were trying to infiltrate, including Gair, the leader. As the peace is discussed throughout the land, the three are taken back to the city where Talyn is stationed, and she makes a mob back off from stoning and abusing them on the way to their prison. However, since the Eastils were an infiltration unit trying to pretend to be Tonks, the proof that they were actually enemy soldiers is lacking, and they are unable to be housed with the actual military prisoners. As a result, they are thrown in the regular jail, where they are housed honorably... until the man taking care of them dies and the jail is taken over by a man neither Tonk nor Eastil, who intends to run the jail to make a profit. Not believing Gair and his men, he has them systematically tortured, beaten and kept on such tiny rations that they are nearly starving.

Meanwhile, Talyn meets the Feegash man again when he comes to the city where she is living. She is immediately attracted to him, and is slowly mustered out along with the other magical troops. Skirmig, the Feegash diplomat (a very junior diplomat) starts coming around to see her, first comissioning jewelry and metalwork from her and then becoming her lover. It disturbs Talyn that when they first make love the two end up physically savaging each other, but Skirmig calms her fears and becomes her lover. All the while, however, she has dreams of Gair (whose name she doesn't know and whose face she doesn't consciously remember) in a cage, his eyes imploring her to help him.

But it isn't until his former comrade Snow Grell returns and asks Talyn to help him find Gair and his comrades, who disappeared at the end of the war and never returned to the Eastils. Talyn agrees to help him and, realizing that most of her magical comrades have dispersed to far-flung places, gathers a few that remain to search for them. They eventually find the men in the prison, and Talyn is shocked to discover their condition. Something is definitely wrong in her homeland, and it seems to have come in with the foreigners the Feegash brought in with them. Talyn is forced to ask for Skirmig's help in rescuing Gair and his comrades, but one of them has already succumbed to the torture and died. Gair and the other remaining man are rescued and brought to Talyn's farm, where she brings a healer into the conspiracy and gets his help in healing Gair and his remaining man. Snow Grell is also there to look out for them.

Skirmig, meanwhile, decides to show Talyn the magic of his people, the Feegash, and slowly schools her in it, telling her to keep it secret, as by doing so, he has betrayed his people. Their physical relationship continues, and he asks her to move in with him, but something bothers her about his servants. She resists for a while, but his villainy is revealed when he invites more Feegash over to the house and their wives tell her the truth about Feegash society: how the women exist only to be beaten and brutalized by the men, and when one woman dies, he already has more being groomed for his bed. Talyn is disgusted and outraged, but Skirmig wipes her memory of the event with his magic, saying that she was poisoned and must recover to account for the missing time.

Meanwhile, Gair, recuperating at Talyn's farm, begins having dreams of Talyn in chains, and when her skill in Feegash magic allows her to see what Skirmig has done to her mind, she rebels and undoes his work. But Skirmig is still able to overcome her, and hands her off to some of his friends for torture, rape and murder. Gair and Snow Grell (the other soldier having died of his wounds after being rescued) rescue her and take her to a bunker unknown to the Feegash, made by the Tonks to fight from should they ever be invaded. Gair sends Snow Grell back to Eastil for reinforcements, sure that his country would have found out about the treachery of the Feegash and found a way to overcome them. Meanwhile, he and Talyn will organize a resistance movement from here.

He and Talyn find a communicator who was forgotten about by the Feegash and assemble those Tonks they can reach, both from the army and civilians from the surrounding regions. Talyn teaches the magic troops Feegash magic, while Gair turns the soldiers into a fighting force capable of taking on the Feegash and those under their mental control, waiting for Snow Grell to return with the reinforcements he is sure to bring from the Eastil Empire.

They fight a few battles with some good luck, and then Snow Grell returns alone, telling them that the Eastil Empire is completely in the control of the Feegash. Even the royal princesses, one of which Snow Grell was in love with, all act like Skirmig. Gair is nearly broken by this revelation, as he believed his people were superior to the Tonks, but apparently their "superior" government allowed them to be more easily taken over.

Unfortunately, Snow Grell is a plant, and has been taken over by the Feegash. Using him, they are able to take over most of the troops that Talyn and Gair had gathered, and Gair and Talyn must flee. Somehow, they must take on the Entire nation with only their own powers and abilities. But can they defeat Skirmig, a fleshmage capable of controlling two nations with his powers?

I enjoyed this book, although parts of it were disturbing to read, especially the parts where the perversions of the Feegash are revealed for the first time, and essentially the mind-rape that Skirmig puts Talyn through. I found the relative ease with which Talyn recovers from her ordeals to have a relationship with Gair less than realistic, although her reactions towards other men after the event are extremely realistic. While the explanation is handwaved as being her realizing that he will not harm her (because he is a weapon her saint has placed in her hands), that didn't cut the mustard with me.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that at the end, despite being cut up like sliced meat in her abdomen and groin, she manages to still have children. Yes, yes, heavenly intervention, but really! I didn't find it believable at all.

The war parts of the book are extremely well done and believable, and the menace of Skirmig is palpable after he has been unmasked. He also acts in a very believeable way as a villain, even if, again, those sequences are hard to read (since he doesn't care for anything but himself, those taken over by him don't feed their children or animals, leading to massive amounts of deaths in the aftermath, and he also goes after Talyn's family since he has a grudge on her because she escaped him).

This is a mature fantasy book, not only for its frank depictions of sex (and talk of same among Talyn's people), but the descriptions of torture and the aftermath of the conflict. If you are not disturbed by these things, this is a fantasy novel that you will enjoy. Otherwise, you might want to stay away from this one. Even so, this novel will linger in your mind long after you are done with it, and may even inspire some not so nice dreams (or nightmares).

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