Medalon: Demon Child Trilogy Book 1
by Jennifer Fallon
Published by Tor Books
400 pages, 2004
Buy it online
A World Without Elves
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Medalon was Jennifer Fallon's first novel. I reviewed her second trilogy, the Second Sons novels, for January Magazine, with great pleasure. It feels strange to go back to this series, only now available in North America, though Australians had the pleasure of reading it in four years ago. There are so many fantasy trilogies around. It's hard to know which one will be just another tale featuring a Tolkienesque party on a quest, with the standard lost prince, bickering elf and dwarf and grunting warrior and which will be a joy to read. Fallon's novels, so far, have all been the latter.
The "demon child" of the series title is R'Shiel, supposed daughter of Joyhinia, First Sister. Joyhinia, in a coup, has recently made herself leader of the Sisterhood, who rule the country of Medalon with an iron fist, coming down hard on anyone who still worships gods of any kind ("heathens").
The country is understandably restless, with rebel groups popping up everywhere. The priests of Karien, the country on the other side of the northern border, are desperate to get their hands on R'Shiel, who is unaware of her true identity -- half-human daughter of the previous King of the Harshini, a race created to be a bridge between gods and humans. She has been created to destroy the Overlord, a god who has got up the noses of the others. Gods can't kill each other and Harshini can't kill anyone, hence the need for those nasty human genes. The half-human Brak has been sent to find her and bring her home.
But R'Shiel has run off from the Sisters' Citadel with her foster-brother, Tarja, who has been condemned for defying his mother. And everybody, from gods to peasants, is after the prophesied "demon child" who is to kill a god and free the people from tyranny...
Medalon is engagingly written and fast-moving. The characters are generally likable and the premise entertaining. The notion of atheism being a state religion, even as the gods casually pop in and out right under the noses of bemused atheists is hilarious. Streets and wharves are believably grubby and noisy and there are a lot more ordinary people than in most fantasy novels of this kind.
There are some puzzling elements. It would be nice to know what all those Novices and Probates in the Sisterhood are actually trained to do, seeing they don't serve any god and all the ruling is done by their leaders, the Quorum. They seem to be a sort of civil service in robes. Actually, that's good too -- one gets tired of the deep and meaningful wise priestess-figure so common in fantasy fiction.
Tarja, as rebel leader, walks into not one but two obvious traps. This is a leader?
Brak, an interesting character in his own right, has a tendency to disappear in the middle of a desperate situation, without explanation, and turn up several chapters later, just as you've forgotten him, leading the cavalry or riding a dragon to the rescue or whatever. This became irritating after a while, as did R'Shiel and Tarja being captured and tortured by the baddies every other chapter.
I also wondered whether we should really be cheering on the gods and their vegetarian servants, the Harshini, given that they were willing to use humans to commit all their acts of violence for them.
But I'm here to tell you that the series just becomes stronger as it continues and so does the author. The loose ends are mostly tied up and there are plenty more interesting characters to come. And wait till you find out how the Sisterhood came into being! Sorry: you'll have to wait for Volume 3.
Much of the pleasure of a Jennifer Fallon novel is in the politics. Her heroes are mostly human, with human concerns. Politics are more important than magic, though magic plays a role. But there are no elves, no wise priestesses in flowing gowns: the priestesses are more like public servants than bearers of eternal wisdom, and can't spot the gods popping in and out right under their noses.
You're taking pot luck when you open yet another heroic fantasy. I steer clear of anything with "In the tradition of ..." on the cover and I avoid series that seem likely to go on for ten volumes. Elves are absolutely out, for me, unless Tolkien wrote them or Terry Pratchett is sending them up. This narrows it down a bit, but still, you never know. Medalon and the other books in the Demon Child trilogy are a pleasant surprise. | July 2004
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.