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The Bone Doll's Twin
Lynn Flewelling
Bantam Spectra, 524 pages

John Jude Palencar
The Bone Doll's Twin
Lynn Flewelling
Lynn Flewelling was born in Presque Isle, Maine in 1958. She received a B.S. from the University of Maine, 1981. Past jobs have included house painter, sales clerk, teacher, necropsy technician and copy writer. She lives in Bangor, Maine, with her husband Doug and 2 sons.

Lynn Flewelling Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Traitor's Moon
SF Site Review: Luck in the Shadows

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

The Bone Doll's Twin begins with a unusual and intriguing premise: in order to fulfill a prophecy and protect the rightful female heir to the throne of Skala, two wizards, with the aid of an outlawed witch, attend a royal birthing of twins, born to the sister of a king who has usurped what, by tradition, is a matriarchal throne, in the process eliminating every possible feminine contender to his reign, even, it is rumored, secretly murdering his own female kin.  The twins born to his sister are a boy and a girl, and to protect as well as disguise the new princess, with the connivance of the mother's husband, the wizards assist the witch in killing the son at birth, casting a spell that binds the newborn princess' physical appearance to that of her dead brother, a bodily glamour achieved by the stitching of switched skin that causes the sister to assimilate the brother's body, and vice versa.  However, the plan goes awry.  The brother's soul is accidentally allowed to enter his now altered and dead body, and the mother, who is not a party to the plot, hears the cry of her infant son just before he is smothered.  While the physical switch of identities works to deceive the king, the infants' mother is, on some level, aware of the deception and the unnatural death of her son, an awareness that will lead into madness and an active hostility towards her surviving child.  Worse, the vengeful spirit of the murdered sibling will come to haunt not only the perpetrators of the crime, but in particular his unknowing sister, who, as she matures, remains totally unaware of her true gender and identity. And, as if the potential for drama within this setting were not enough, related if more conventional conflicts begin to emerge between the kingdom of Skala and an ancient foe, intrigues simmer at court, and a looming struggle begins to emerge between mages who support the new rule of the king and those who wish a return to the older reign of queens.

While much of this tale takes place within a narrative that draws openly upon traditional fantasy conventions, the rich potential for exploring themes of identity, gender and the moral implications of the price one will pay to attain noble ends all await further exploration within this work, as well as a wealth of possibilities for incisive and emotionally poignant psychological study. For this reason, the underlying premise to this novel is cause for both celebration and expectation.  However, by novel's end, the groundwork laid for this anticipation is only tentatively or tangentially expanded upon, the narrative for the most part following a rather standard, if gender rearranged, coming of age story, drawing upon ideas such as rule associated with the welfare of a realm, struggles between competing belief systems identified with male and female primigenial principles, or a version of the prince and princess in disguise, themes generally common enough to fantasy and folklore, and already more than amply called upon by any number of other authors drawing from earlier, ready-made conventions and plot devices.  This work therefore, after five hundred some pages, appears poised, after a start pregnant with possibilities, to be devolving along the lines of a somewhat standard if initially cleverly conceived outing, somehow losing its conceptual way with the telling.  For the moment, its promising potential appears, like the spirit of the murdered child, a spectre lingering at the margins of the narrative's world, glimpsed but rarely fully visible.

Yet, to condemn this work offhand as merely another clever notion never entirely realized would prove not only unjust but premature.  This novel is, for better or worse, but the first of a longer series, with future pages still available to flesh out what should be anticipated -- indeed, now attendant -- explorations into the nature of identity, the cost inherent in the end justifying the means, or the dual, schizothymic and possibly dissociative psychodramas that would likely play out for anyone growing up physically in a different gender, only to have their true form and sexuality suddenly revealed, their past life shown a lie and the gift of their own twin's murder.  It is impossible not to generously laud the author for an imaginative and striking premise.  However, it now waits to be seen whether or not she can free herself of the constraints and demands of both conforming and expanding her ideas within the more conventional plot development she has so far adopted, in order to deliver upon her narrative's opening promise: an opportunity created it would be a shame to miss.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.

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