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Review: Doppelganger, by Marie Brennan

I've read a handful of debut novels lately. It's not a deliberate choice. Who knows, maybe my subconscious just wants to see how Goblin Quest stacks up to other first* books. So anyway, last night I finished Doppelganger, by Marie Brennan (aka swan_tower).

In brief: it's good. An original world, interesting protagonists, a fun story, and a satisfying conclusion.

The book jumps between two points of view. Miryo is a young witch who must kill her doppelganger before she can control her own magic. Mirage is the doppelganger, a particularly gifted warrior and Hunter. Both characters are strong, independent, determined, and likable. Naturally, Miryo's mission to kill her double soon becomes far more complicated and messier than expected, drawing them into the middle of a conspiracy with the potential to destroy them both.

The doppelganger issue originally made me stumble a little. When a witch is born, a spell is cast to help her channel her magic, and to block that channel until she's ready. The side effect is a doppelganger, which must be killed if the witch is to survive and come into her power. To me, it felt a little forced. It's a wonderful setup for the novel, but I never understood why the doppelganger was a natural side effect of the magic, for instance. And for me, the ritual murder of infants is too drastic a thing to be glossed over by saying the infants don't have souls until they're five days old, so it's not really murder.

The story gets stronger as it goes. I like the relationship between Miryo and Mirage. In many ways, they truly are the same person, and it's fun to watch Brennan explore their similarities and differences, and the connection between them. They complement one another, and the book reflects that; the part where both characters come together really does feel more complete than the earlier chapters.

Bonus points to Brennan for avoiding the typical medieval European fantasyland world. This is a world of Brennan's own creation, but its roots appear to be a bit more Eastern in origin, which is refreshing. Yes, we have swords and magic and horses and witchcraft. But while some aspects were familiar, the book doesn't feel like something I've read a thousand times before. Brennan also incorporates religion and prayer into the story, not in an evangelistic, preachy way, but as a natural part of the world and the characters. Fantasy and SF often seems to ignore or simplify religion, but Brennan presents a rich, honest faith, as well as the good and the evil that can come of it.

The book includes a short preview of the sequel, Warrior and Witch. I rarely glance at these excerpts, but in this case, I immediately read it and wanted more. Happily, Warrior and Witch will be out in less than two months. Sooner would be better, but I suppose I can wait that long.


*Of course, an author's first published book is very rarely a true first book. Goblin Quest is my fourth, and from what I've seen, I'm a bit of a quick starter...



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 18th, 2006 01:48 pm (UTC)
You know, I haven't been deliberately seeking out the first books. At least, I don't think I have. I won Simon's "Hal Spacejock" book in a contest. I picked up Bujold's first book because I wanted to read her stuff, and that was the one I found...

I wonder sometimes if I've got more to learn from being an early starter. Probably just typical author insecurity, though ;-)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 18th, 2006 01:48 pm (UTC)
Gotta support the family!
Aug. 18th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
Hey, I know that book! <g>

Doppelganger is the second one I wrote. The first one I wrote, vastly revised, is currently being pitched to editors.

And for me, the ritual murder of infants is too drastic a thing to be glossed over by saying the infants don't have souls until they're five days old, so it's not really murder.

You know, you're the first reviewer I've seen bring that up? I really expected more reaction to it. So I'm totally okay with you having a problem with it, because at least you noticed. <g> I'm not interested in testing a bunch of boundaries at once in my works, but occasionally I'll do one at a time; with that one, I was poking at the deep-seated tendency we have to assume that our own personal worldviews are the way the world really works, and that people may believe other things but they're wrong. In fantasy, they can be absolutely right. If you didn't ensoul the doppelganger infant, it would remain a vegetable; on a fundamental level, it is not a person. I'm not saying I approve of infanticide in our world, but in theirs . . . certain people in that novel are making mistakes, but their mistakes are more complex than "OMG you're killing babies you horrible people." (Which is not to say that's what you said. Just sort of how hypothetical reviewers talked in my head. Only nobody else seemed to pay much attention to the baby-killing.)

And yay! You mentioned religion! You're my favoritest reviewer. <g>

Seriously, thanks for the kind words.
Aug. 18th, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
Personally, I'm all for pushing boundaries and writing ambitious stories :-) And the infant-killing bit did trigger some cultural relativity thoughts in my head. I found myself thinking of cultures where children aren't named right away, often because infant mortality is so high.

"If you didn't ensoul the doppelganger infant, it would remain a vegetable; on a fundamental level, it is not a person."

Whether or not it's a person seems like it's still a value judgement as opposed to a concrete fact. But I think it would have helped me to see a soulless person, someone who (somehow) had never been exposed to starlight and was a vegetable, so that we knew this wasn't a belief so much as a fact of this world. (I hope that distinction makes sense.)

I have absolutely no clue how you could have worked that in. It makes no sense to include something like that in the story. But without it, the infant/soul issue became an (unproven) belief in my mind. I could understand and accept that the witches believed the doppelgangers weren't people, but I couldn't agree with it being a right choice. Does that make any sense?

And I love it when writers incorporate religion in a more serious and thoughtful way. (Have you read Michael Burstein's Sanctuary? You have to be a SFWA member to access it, but that's another story I thought did a good job of bringing religion into the mix...)
Aug. 18th, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)
That does make sense, and like I said, I've got no problem with people having issues with it; I really expected that more people would.

I haven't read Sanctuary, but one of the things I love about Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books is that she's one of the few fantasy authors I've seen write about characters with real, meaningful religious sentiments. (And that often gets overlooked as people focus on the BDSM.) Way too much fantasy treats religion as window dressing, a random bit of color that doesn't really reflect how many people in our world feel about it.
Aug. 18th, 2006 07:57 pm (UTC)
Iknow I've been guilty of that. In the goblin books, the god character is really more just another character than an actual deity. Some of what I'm doing is deliberate, for the sake of the fun and humor. But so far, his role in the books could just as well be filled by a fairly potent and distant wizard.

I'm hoping that will change somewhat in the third book. I want to see more of his role in the universe, and I've created a new worshipper for him. Poor Frika gets mocked a lot for her blind faith, but if I can pull it off, I plan to play with those perceptions a lot by the end of the book...
Aug. 20th, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
I am so proud of you! I know how much work you put into what you do, so the rewards are very well deserved! Tell Skylar and Amy hello for me.

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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