Tor Hardcover 2007
Mother of Lies is the sequel to last year’s Children of Chaos and the conclusion to Dave Duncan’s “Dodec Duology,” a fantasy epic about the war between the peoples of two facets, Vigaelia and Florengia, of a twelve-sided (dodecahedral) world called Dodec. (Check out my review of Children of Chaos for a summary of Dodec, its peoples and what’s happened so far.)
Mother of Lies finds the Celebre children reunited, the Vigaelian army in Florengia on its heels, and the Florengian rebels looking to “liberate” (which sometimes means “utterly destroy”) the last Florengian cities held by Vigaelian warlord Stralg Hragson. Given its proximity to the pass over the edge of the world into Vigaelia, the Florengian city of Celebre figures to become strategically integral as the war reaches its close. Celebre’s Doge Piero is near death, and his wife Oliva, acting ruler of Celebre in his stead, now faces two crises: the impending power vacuum that will exist with Piero’s death, and the threat of total destruction should Stralg decide to make his last stand in her city.
Leadership in Celebre is traditionally passed down to the most suitable of the former leader’s male heirs, and at the opening of Mother of Lies the Celebre children are in Vigaelia, and for all Oliva knows, dead. However, there is a nominal heir to the throne: Chies, the product of Stralg’s rape of Oliva when Celebre first fell to the Vigaelians. Acknowledged by Piero as his natural son, the sixteen-year-old Chies is covertly recognized by all in Celebre as a Stralgson due to both his appearance and his demeanor. He would make an ideal puppet ruler for Celebre should the Vigaelians retain control of Florengia, but would Celebre’s ruling council appoint him Doge if Stralg’s defeat is as inevitable as it appears? And if not Chies, then whom will they appoint?
If Stralg is defeated, they may have no choice in the matter, for the Florengian rebellion is led by a native Celebrian, the ruthless Muntineer Marno Cavotti. Marno was forced into Werist training by the Vigaelians in their attempt to create a Vigaelian-controlled army of Florengians. However, Marno and his fellow Florengian Werists revolted against their masters and after years of fighting are now the more powerful army. Should Marno defeat Stralg, he will have the military might to conquer Celebre – and perhaps the entire facet, in which case, Florengia may be delivered from the hands of one warlord into those of another.
In the meantime, the Celebre children – Dantio, Fabia, Orlad and Benard – make their way towards the edge of the world, pursued by the evil Saltaja Hragsdor, who hopes to arrive in Florengia first to help her brother Stralg quell the Florengian uprising. But even if the Celebre children make it over the edge first and arrive in Celebre before their father’s death, which one of them will rule?
Mother of Lies develops and resolves many of the thematic issues that were raised in Children of Chaos. The sibling rivalries among the Celebres touched upon in the first book appear take center stage in the second, with a dynamic interchange between political ambitions and familial loyalties. Religion also factors into the political machinations and family squabbles, with the fate of the two facets balancing upon the resolution between different faiths (which may or may not have conflicting interests), just as the crisis in Children of Chaos arose from the domination of one faith over another. Duncan handles these conflicts in imaginative ways, bringing the various plot lines to a conclusion that satisfies without wrapping everything up too neatly – that is to say, unrealistically. After all, we can never truly return to the status quo, and even when political crises pass, we do have to go on with our lives and all the little problems that come with them, especially those concerning loved ones, family, beliefs and community.
There were some surprises here and there, particularly in Duncan’s subversion of gender stereotypes and his unorthodox treatment of principal viewpoint characters, making for an original, exciting tale in which anything can happen, and often does (for instance, the abrupt demise of a prominent viewpoint character from Children of Chaos was quite shocking). Duncan’s prose avoids the excessively florid in its description and the archaic in its dialogue, opting instead for simpler narration and contemporary parlance that help to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. This is not paint-by-numbers epic fantasy, but a world as quirky as its impossible shape and as unpredictable as the roll of a twelve-sided die. Mother of Lies is an entertaining conclusion to the Dodec Duology, and serves as a refreshing reminder that epic fantasy need not always be doorstops filled with manly men speaking in overblown rhetoric and grasping their swords.
© 2007 Arthur Bangs