Tanya Huff – Fifth Quarter
Length: 416 pages
Started: 30 January 2010
Finished: 01 February 2010
Where did it come from? Gift from my LibraryThing Secret Santa (a year ago. shame!)
Why do I have it? See above.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 30 December 2008.
It’s crowded! Fighting
with your brother’s no fun when
he’s inside your head.
Summary: Vree and Bannon are the two best assassins the Sixth Army has to offer. They’ve never missed a target… but their latest assignment is waiting for them, with a trap that they have no hope of escaping. When their target somehow steals Bannon’s body, his soul must take up residence in Vree’s body, or risk dispersal and death. The two siblings have always been a team, but the strain of sharing a single body may prove too much for them as they track down the man who has absconded with Bannon’s body. When they find him, though, they are unable to force him out, so he offers them a choice: either they must continue to share Vree’s body forever, or else they can have Bannon’s body back… after they’ve helped him acquire the Prince’s body instead. And possible body-snatching is not the only danger to the Imperial family, for there’s another man on the loose with just as much magical power, but with much darker designs… and he’s got his eye on the Prince as well.
Review: One thing I really enjoy in my fantasy novels is, well, novelty. Speculative fiction gives authors so much scope for telling new stories and building new worlds, and yet sometimes it seems like we just get epic quest after epic quest. Not that epic quests can’t be done well, but if an author can give me a story that doesn’t feel like I’ve read it ten times before, that’s always a huge bonus. And that, I think was one of the strongest things about Fifth Quarter – I hadn’t read it, or anything like it, before. I suppose I’ve come across body snatching in Anne Rice’s Tale of the Body Thief, and the idea of two consciousnesses sharing one body in Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, but the combination of those two ideas, plus the sibling dynamics, plus the assassins as main characters, plus the elements of necromancy and zombies, all combined into a story that felt interesting and fresh. The magical system wasn’t particularly original – a combination of elemental magic and sung magic – nor was it explained in any great detail, but the magic itself was never really the point, and there were plenty of other things on which to focus.
The writing, while nothing phenomenal, was unobtrusive and easy to read. Huff’s great at building suspense and keeping the reader engaged from early on, and I read the last half of this book in one solid sitting. I was also pleasantly surprised at how good Huff writing realistic-sounding dialogue, and at making potentially very complex scenes (Vree arguing with Bannon inside her head while simultaneously arguing with another character out loud) clear and understandable. The characters are all well-built and multi-dimensional as well, and for the most part even the bad guys are interesting and sympathetic. (Although it chafes a little to call someone as shallow and obnoxious as Bannon “multi-dimensional”; I spent most of the book hoping he’d get his own body back so that Vree could kick him in the shins.) I also really enjoyed that pretty much everyone in the book was just sort of casually bisexual – it’s still pretty rare (although becoming less so) to find GLBT characters in fiction where their GLBT-ness isn’t the point of the story… or even a point of discussion.
The only character note that really bothered me were the incestuous overtones. Vree being in love with her brother provided some interesting dilemmas – like, is it still incest if it’s her brother’s body but not her brother’s soul? (the biologist answers: YES) – but it also meant that there were some unfortunate “jokes” about her brother being inside her that really grossed me out. Also, it didn’t help that this was the second book I’ve read in less than a month that dealt with the idea of incest. This one was better than On Fire’s Wings, though, just because at least in Fifth Quarter, incest was treated by all of the characters as something taboo and wrong. So, while it did skeeve me out whenever it came up, it didn’t totally dominate my view of the book. Which is a good thing, since I really enjoyed just about everything else about this novel, and will definitely be looking for more of Huff’s books in the future. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Fifth Quarter is technically the second book in a series, but while it is set in the same world as the first one, none of the characters overlap, so it certainly can stand on its own. This book would be a good match for people who like their fantasy novels original, mature, fast-reading, and with a slight tinge of horror.
Other Reviews: Couldn’t find any. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: There were guards on duty at the entrance to the marshal’s tent but they’d expected that and were accustomed to using less obvious entrances.
Cover Thoughts: It’s rare that a person on a cover even looks slightly like how I picture that person in my head… but in this case, the artist nailed it for both Vree and Bannon. There’s a lot going on on this cover, and a lot of little tiny details make it look pretty busy, but they all fit the book exceptionally well.