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13 Orphans, by Jane Lindskold

Thirteen Orphans

by Jane Lindskold

Review by Scot Noel





Thirteen Orphans, subtitled “Breaking the Wall, is a captivating urban fantasy, one I looked forward to getting back to every time the demands of the ‘real world’ interrupted my reading. The engaging quality of the writing, one of Jane Lindskold’s strengths, is comprised of clean, uncomplicated prose, characters whose ‘neighborly resonance’ grows on you quickly, and a magical world built out of components at once familiar and intriguingly far-out.

If you’re a fan of Charles DeLint, you know what I mean. In a way, Lindskold’s new book took me all the way back to Moonheart and the delicious feeling that novel evoked that both people and places can be a part of the ordinary and a part of the “other” all at once.

In this case, our heroine Brenda Morris is on a trip with her father through northern California. A typical college sophomore, she is prepared to humor her parent in visiting an old friend, but not to learn about a family heritage that seems the stuff of madness and high drama sewn together.

Brenda soon learns that her father, his friend Albert Yu, and other family acquaintances and friends share a mysterious past. They are the descendants of the Thirteen Orphans, the court advisors and protectors of an exiled emperor. Together with their ruler, the original Thirteen Orphans were cast out from the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice some 75 years before. Originally seeking refuge in China, a land with specific affinities to their own magical kingdom, the Orphans drifted apart with each new generation.

When this story begins, a number of descendants, like Brenda, know little or nothing about their honored past. If anything, that leaves them all the more vulnerable when enemies from the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice return to Earth in search of ‘stolen’ possessions the Orphan descendants know nothing of. Worse, the invaders take away the memories of Brenda’s father, leaving her bereft of his guidance in a world turned suddenly inside out.

Thirteen Orphans moves along at a nice pace, introducing characters and complications with a smooth alacrity. We meet aging movie star Pearl Bright, the de facto leader of the hunted Orphans and the last of the characters we would expect to wield a magical sword. There is Desperate Lee, whose name still makes me smile rather than cringe, and whose mentorship of Brenda and another next gen Orphan named Riprap highlights one of the qualities I like best about Lindskold’s books: the way in which characters quickly form alliances that evolve into friendships and ersatz families. They have one another’s backs. They worry about failing the tribe.

The action is straightforward: find out who’s behind the attack on Brenda’s dad and other key Orphans, get back the stolen memories, and maybe, just maybe, regain the throne of the Lands Born of Smoke and Sacrifice.

The world and its magic are well conceived and center around the inherent magic Chinese culture imbues to its written word, including the symbols used for the signs of the zodiac and the faces of mah-jong tiles. Let’s just say that in no other tale has book burning played so fundamental a role in world creation, nor have I ever before seen the inadvertent play of a mah-jong tile have such dire astronomical consequences.

It’s all fun, and the characters take us believably through to the end, where the climactic confrontation with the enemy takes a surprising turn that has me eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold

© 2008 by Jane Lindskold
TOR A Tom Doherty Associates Book, New York



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