Classic magical fantasy goes modern in Medalon. Review by S.K. Slevinski
For those who lament the rise of low-magic fantasy, take heart as Jennifer Fallon opens her Hythrun Chronicles with both skilled character development and plenty of magic.
First published in Australia in 2000 and then picked up by Tor in 2004, Fallon's Hythrun Chronicles gets off to a great start with Medalon. In many ways it is a classic fantasy, with centuries old sorcerers, newly awakened powers and a cast of quirky gods. On the other hand, Fallon brings the current trend of "cultural fantasy" into the equation. Medalon brings us first into the atheistic hierarchy of the Sisters of the Blade, a ruling governmental body with an ideological mission to stamp out the belief in pagan gods. They have established their rule with a firm hand in Medalon, but the areas to the north and south still hold to belief in various gods. Within the Sisters of the Blade, a plot is brewing from an ambitious Sister to take control. She, however, holds a secret, the ramifications of which even she cannot foresee. The village child, R'Shiel, she took and claimed as her daughter isn't simply a secret adoptee. When R'Shiel and her believed-to-be brother, Tarja, discover the truth of her origins, it sets them on a path of rebellion and duty leading to the realization of R'Shiel's mysterious heritage of non-human blood.
As a fan of low-magic fantasy, I found Medalon to have more magic than I typically look for in a fantasy story. I have to admire, however, that the characters come first. Too often character stories get trampled under high concept magic, but Fallon avoids this trap. The magical concepts are introduced slowly but steadily throughout this first book, and they do not overpower the story. Ultimately, the soul of this book is its characters, especially R'Shiel and Tarja. High concept fantasy fans, worry not! These magics are woven into the plot on an essential level. R'Shiel's discovery of her non-human bloodline and the power it brings is a necessary part of her quest for self-discovery and her rebellion against the Sisters of the Blade. The magic is used skillfully and the story is plotted with plenty of action and page-turning intrigue, promising an engaging trilogy to follow.
Fallon's Medalon mixes the best of both worlds in modern fantasy, boasting a complex tapestry of magic alongside of speculative political and cultural constructs. Most fans of modern fantasy, no matter what side of the magic-loving spectrum they cling to, should find Medalon a rare common ground.
S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.