Jennifer Fallon
Medalon Cover


Sable Aradia

Read for the High Fantasy Reading Challenge, the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, the 12 Awards in 12 Months Challenge, and the Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge.

There are a lot of mixed reactions about this book on Goodreads. People rated it as everything from one star (crap) to five stars (brilliant). And I understand why.

There are a lot of very tired old fantasy tropes here, and the plot is a tangled mess that seems like the characters being thrown from one scenario in which they are helpless to another scenario in which they are helpless, with nobody listening to them and them getting beaten up and tortured at any given opportunity. I might suspect Fallon of being a sadist, if I didn't know that BDSM doesn't work that way.

I lost patience very quickly with the completely unlikable female lead who is a Special Snowflake with super-magic powers and a great but terrible destiny (as stuck-up and moody as Vanyel Ashkevron at the beginning of Magic's Pawn, and without Fallon having the foresight to point out that they suffered from the same flaw; namely that nobody had ever bothered to love them); the Brooding Anger Management Issue that is the male lead (and primary romantic interest); and the shoehorned plot scenarios centering around the defeat of the Irredeemably Evil Parental Unit for No Good Reason who is the primary antagonist and the Evil Sadistic Bully who is the secondary antagonist.

It would be nice if something the characters did or thought made any difference to the outcome of the story, if some element of their planning and thinking were occasionally rewarded, or if politics or strategy in this world made any sense whatsoever. Also, Fallon spent most of the book tellingus about the military actions, and not showing us. It's a pet peeve I have with Mercedes Lackey books too; for her, the story is not about the battles, so she doesn't include them except as background, and this is not my preference in style. But perhaps this was a good decision. I was appalled by page 16 because clearly, Fallon knew almost nothing about how a military actually works. One subordinate of the Anger Management Issue was lipping him off and disobeying his orders, and whining that he was going to tattle to his superiors, which revealed their location to the enemy by means of his noisy insubordination: and any military that actually functions would have had the man clapped in irons and court martialed, because this is not high school, goddammit! Or, if there really was the kind of political backstabbing and intrigue going on that I think that Fallon might have meant to imply, people would have been a lot more careful to martial their words, a la the Peeps in the early Honor Harrington novels. The fact that neither happened made me spitting mad.

But I liked it enough to pick up the second book, and here's why:

As frustrated as I was with the plot, I loved the people. The characters reacted realistically (aside from the Irredeemably Evil Parental Unit for No Good Reason). When the Anger Management Issue (who, ironically, kept thinking of how the Special Snowflake was a temper tantrum in a basket; pot and kettle, much? But then, maybe that was the intention, and Anger Management was an unreliable narrator) came back to the leader of the army he'd deserted because of the election of the Irredeemably Evil Parental Unit, the leader was disinclined to drop everything he was doing and take his word for it that the guys he thought were the enemy were not. Instead he had him locked up for court marital. The guy sent to acquire the Special Snowflake for her destiny was not inclined to save the Anger Management Issue as well (and why should he have been?) The rebels maneuvered the protagonists into helping them despite their belief in the party line of the ruling Sisterhood, and they didn't just give up those beliefs because one member of the ruling Sisterhood was horribly corrupt (though most of them were sort of corrupt.) Good stuff!

And also, the religious implications are extremely interesting in the world that Fallon has created. The nation of Medalon is run by a militant "religious" atheist group called the Sisters of the Blade (who remind me a little of the Bene Gesserit, but not nearly as mystical) who are supported by an all-male armed forces called the Defenders. When they took power several decades ago, they wiped out all priests and a race of "demons" called the Harshini. The nation to the south of them is at war with them because they are polytheists who worship the Harshini. The nation to the north of them are militant monotheists who hate the heathen polytheists more than the atheists, and they've had a peace treaty for many years.

Except that there really are gods, who come in two forms: Primal Gods (like the god of the mountains or the goddess of love) who exist because those things exist; and the Incidental Gods, who exist because people believe in them (like a goddess of a major river) and they are formed from the Harshini, and only remain gods if they have worshipers. The god of the monotheists to the north is an Incidental God who realizes he will have more power if he has his followers eliminate the worshipers of other gods, as well as the atheists. To that end he has his followers manufacture a resurgence of heathenry in Medalon as an excuse to declare war on them; something the Irredeemably Evil Parental Unit willingly facilitates in her grab for control of the Sisterhood (yet somehow nobody tries her for treason, which makes no sense at all).

To complicate matters, gods cannot kill one another, and neither can Harshini. So the only one who can kill a god is a half-human, half-Harshini, and the only such half-breed powerful enough to do so must be descended from the Harshini royal line. Enter the Special Snowflake.

And, to top things off, the contrived plot devices and helplessness of the characters actually had a logical reason; namely, that the God of War believes that the Special Snowflake needs to be "tempered," so that when she faces the uppity god of the monotheists she will have a cold iron will. And he intends to goad her and goad her until she accepts her identity and her destiny and does what he wants her to do.

So why did I pick up the second book? Because clearly the Sisterhood is right; humanity is better off without these cruel gods and capricious demons; the God of War and the Monotheist God are the real bad guys; and I sincerely hope that R'shiel, the Special Snowflake, murders the whole lot of them by the end of the trilogy.