Jane Lindskold is an amazing author. I first encountered her work when I read Child of a Rainless Year. I was astonished — here was a coming of age story about an adult, an older woman, and one that acknowledged the complicated interplay between race, class, and family. AND it was a lyrical, lovely fantasy novel, with a wry narrator and a solidly realized plot. I’d love to describe it as a fairy tale for grown-ups, but really? With the tight attention focused on social dynamics, spatiality, and memory? It’s more like magic realism, or Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren.
Clearly, I have a massive fan-girl on for Linkskold. I was tremendously excited to hear she was starting a new series. Buuut. I hate fantasy novels featuring mystical links with the animal world. I think it’s a result of reading too much Mercedes Lackey and Anne MacCaffery when I was a wee Ria. I can’t handle the telepathic animal making witty comments in the back of my head.
Fortunately for me, I cracked. Since then, I have been taking my broke ass self to the bookstore every week, because the adventures of Firekeeper, Blind Seer, and the other Hawk Havenese are my new addiction. The Firekeeper Saga is… all the fun of good pulp with all the theory of good feminism.
Our titular character is Firekeeper, a mysterious, fierce girl raised by Royal wolves at the edge of the Iron Mountains. These wolves (like the talking animals in Narnia) are bigger, smarter, and stronger than their non-Royal Cousins. They can also talk, in their own way. Firekeeper grows up as their eternal pup, their Two-legs, beloved but never pampered. She may or may not be a scion of the royal family of Hawk Haven, the human kingdom whose edges touch the foot of this particular mountain range. This possible line of descent, and its impact on the battle for the throne, forms the plot of the first book. Each of the following books focuses on political intrigues, their impact on the lives of both commoners and royalty, and the shifting social relations of a world in flux.
Lindskold is conscious of the infrastructure supporting the class hiearchies of her world, and is very very careful to make that infrastructure clear to the reader. No one’s a princess just ’cause she was born that way. There’s a history, there was conquest, and some really crazy shit went down. There are gender roles, but they’re not proscribed, and there are examples throughout the series of men as nurturers, women as warleaders, and both of these as constantly shifting roles. What I love the most is that Lindskold makes it clear is that there are more ways than one to be a leader, to be of service, and to be noble. These decisions aren’t presented as though they’re easy, either. Throughout the course of the series, we watch our main characters grow, maturing and greiving for fallen comrades. This is a series where people — and children — can die. They can betray and be betrayed. Ultimately, it’s the kind of series where you’ll miss bus stops, cross walk signals, and walk into poles as you try to read every last word.