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Tanya Huff – Fifth Quarter

February 12, 2010

13. Fifth Quarter by Tanya Huff (1995)
Quarters, Book 2

Length: 416 pages
Genre: Fantasy

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2010 12:38 pm

    My mother’s been pressuring me to read these books. I think I may have started this one years and years ago, then abandoned it for some reason. Hmm. Maybe it’s time to give it another go.

    Regarding the cover art: I find that Jody Lee (the artist) usually does an excellent job with her character portraits. Even when her depictions don’t exactly match the image inside my head, it’s still clear that she’s paid attention to the author’s descriptions. She’s my very favourite cover artist.

    • February 23, 2010 8:46 am

      Memory – What else has she done? I don’t pay nearly as much attention to cover artists as I probably should, given how much they can influence my reaction to a book.

  2. aria permalink
    December 9, 2010 2:30 pm

    got lost here again. funnily enough, i haven’t read fifth quarter, but i read another book in this series, no quarter. and, omigod, i loved it. it keeps referring to stuff that happen in fifth quarter, but i got through the book with no problems. gyhard really comes as a whole person even if he is only a soul trapped in vree’s body. and vree’s and bannon’s issues. love it. yeah, the ideas itself have been done before, but huff writes in a way that you can really relate to the characters and it’s one of those books that painted a picture in my mind as i was reading it. i have a problem with fantasy series because my first fantasy was lord of the rings and nothing quite measures up to it. but no quarter was always one of my favorite fantasy books and guilty pleasures. :p

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