Lord of the Shadows: Book 3 in the Second Sons Trilogy

by Jennifer Fallon

Published by HarperCollins Australia

675 pages, 2003

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The Second Sun

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


With this volume, the highly entertaining journey we began with hero Dirk Provin, genius mathematician, in The Lion of Senet finally ends. I use the term "volume" rather than "novel" because Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy really is one book in three sections rather than a novel with two sequels.

The planet of Ranadon is in uproar. Dirk Provin has handed over rebel Tia to her enemies (but made sure she could escape) before seemingly making an alliance with the Church of the Suns, the rebels have a contract out on him, evil High Priestess Belagren has been murdered by the ambitious acolyte Marquel, who wants her job, the crippled heir to the throne of Senet has disappeared and nearly everyone hates Dirk (the few who don't have been asked to trust him, without any explanation). What a mess!

Dirk, you see, is the only mathematician on the planet clever enough to be able to work out when the next Age of Shadows is due -- a time when the brighter of the planet's two suns will disappear temporarily, causing disaster. Right now, he is busy manipulating all those around him to fulfill his own agenda. The reader, like his few friends, has to trust him and believe that he is working on saving the world. He is the good guy, after all ... isn't he?

Dirk Provin is brother under the skin to Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan -- a Miles who is on a world without spaceflight. Like Miles, he can talk his way out of any potential disaster and get even his enemies to do what he wants. Unlike Miles, he is alone. Miles can count on his loyal friends in the Dendarii mercenary fleet, his Emperor and his parents. Dirk has to keep his secret from even those who might support him -- and the idiocy of some of his "allies" is nearly his undoing at times -- the nasty but dimwitted Marquel, for example, who will not do as she is told and messes up his plans a number of times, forcing him to improvise.

Despite the mediaeval technology in Lord of the Shadows, this is not a fantasy. It depends on the laws of physics for the main premise. It's the only science fictional element, apart from the setting, though -- the rest is about the planet's politics, which is typical of Jennifer Fallon's writing.

I was glad to find at least one character in this volume who was capable of understanding some part of what Dirk is doing; much as I've enjoyed the trilogy, I've felt, at times, that nobody, however sympathetic, was anywhere near Dirk's equal. This may be one of my few criticisms of the trilogy. Also, if you're going to write a novel that runs for the equivalent of about 1800 pages, you should take at least the reader into your confidence to some extent, even if the hero doesn't tell any of his friends what's going on. Those he manipulates, often rulers in their own right, look like idiots and his friends, who couldn't possibly know what he's doing, under the circumstances, still look foolish. No wonder so many characters who should be cheering for Dirk want to kill him!

A thought: I wonder if there's a cheeky joke somewhere in the title of the trilogy -- "Second Sons", i.e. Dirk and his friend Kirsh -- and the fact that the main premise involves the planet's two suns?

This is a journey I was sorry to end. I'm looking forward to whatever Jennifer Fallon writes next; it's bound to be entertaining. | February 2004


Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.