Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Review: Doppelganer

Marie Brennan's Doppelganger is a fantasy novel that uses the ideas of witches and magic to examine nature versus nuture, the concept of a soul, and the effect of tradition upon a society.

When a witch is born, a spell is cast that creates a channel for magic to flow into the witch, but that channel is blocked until she is twenty-five and mature enough to handle the power. However, the side-effect of this spell is to separate the baby into two entities: witch baby and her doppelganger. The doppelganger must be killed before the witch can control her magic.

A key element in this concept is the belief that a baby does not have a soul until it's exposed to starlight, and this is done in a ceremony five days after the baby's birth.

There is a review on amazon that expressed a reader's inability to finish the book because the concept of killing a baby was too horrifying to her. Whether we, as readers, respond that strongly, the importance of Brennan's novel is that the majority of her witch characters are not horrified by this concept. That is a strong message about the hold that religious doctrine and tradition has on a society.

In the novel, Brennan explores what happens when one of these doppelgangers is not killed and survives to adulthood. Miryo is a young witch, who passes her final test, but learns she will not be able to control her magic until she finds and kills her doppelganger. Only that doppelganger has grown into a woman with an identity of her own—the Hunter named Mirage.

Brennan has crafted a wonderful world. Her descriptions may be sparse, in places, but that is far better than sucumbing to the traditional fantasy genre fallacy of too much detail bogging down the narration. Instead, Brennan's world-building is skillful, subtle and strongly displayed in her ability to craft believable and suitable linguistic details regarding the Starfell witches.

Each catagory of witch, depending on her rank and affiliation, has its own suffix. If it sounds a bit confusing, don't fret, a handy glossary has been included. It allows the reader to reference characters and terms that may confuse them.

Her main protagonists are two strong, well-developed female characters. Their strengths may be in different areas, but they compliment each other. Mirage is a trained Hunter, who works as a spy, bounty hunter, assassin, etc. Miryo is a witch, who has been trained in healing arts and magic lore. The two are well-balanced—it's not a matter of a brains and brawn separation.

Also, Brennan does not have a romantic subplot, and this was a refreshing change from the standard urban fantasy fare I've been reading. That is not to say that character relationships aren't a driving factor of the plot, but just that romance isn't a part of those relationships.

Occasionally, the witch names caused me to pause. They appear to be constructed from Japanese. Certain names are common female names, other have a more masculine look to them—despite being given to females. Still others do not appear to be names at all but compounds of phoenetics. I imagine they could be composed of terms I'm unfamiliar with, and it would be interesting to learn if they were constructed to have specific meanings. (One of my favorite of these syallable names is "Arinei." Ah-ree-neh. It just rolls off the tongue.)

My only concern with the novel was the dialogue. It's not "bad," persay, it's just not up to the quality of the narration. This could be because everyone in the novel spoke venacular English. It's not a problem to use common language in dialogue, but it can become one if every character sounds the same. I was a little disappointed, as the characters seemed to lack individual voices.

Regardless of the dialogue, I enjoyed this book and felt it had a statisfying conclusion. If this was caused by Doppelganger being primarily written as a stand-alone, then I think more authors should write that way. However, since Brennan answered her publisher's request for a sequel, I must admit that I'm excited to read it.

Rating: B+


Rachel Vincent said...

Oooh, now I want to read it.

You got your labels up! Yea!

c.rooney said...

I think you'd enjoy it, Rachel, and it's a fast read.

Well, most of the labels. I decided instead of labelling everything, I'd just label what I wanted people to be able to find. ^_^

Rachel Vincent said...

Of course, now I want to know what you don't want us to know. ;-)

c.rooney said...

Mostly just progress reports of "chapter X was finished on XX/XX/XX" and "the word count is now XX,XXX" entries.

Sorcha Chumomisto said...

this sounds really interesting. i'd be interested in reading too.

c.rooney said...

Sarah, I will lend you this one and its sequel with the second Dante Valentine book at Christmas. :)

Sorcha Chumomisto said...

yay books!