There are a lot of intricate moving pieces to Lynn Flewelling’s The Bone Doll’s Twin.  Ripe with melodrama, morally questionable wizardry and witchcraft, and elements of gothic horror, The Bone Doll’s Twin is perfect for those of us who like our high fantasy with a heavy dose of the macabre.

Flewelling’s story takes us to Skala, a land that has historically been protected, as per prophecy, by a line of warrior queens.  However, Erius, a usurper king, comes to power and breaks the long standing tradition.

Referring to the book’s official description:

Now plague and drought stalk the land, war with Skala’s ancient rival Plenimar drains the country’s lifeblood, and to be born female into the royal line has become a death sentence as the king fights to ensure the succession of his only heir, a son. For King Erius the greatest threat comes from his own line — and from Illior’s faithful, who spread the Oracle’s words to a doubting populace.

As noblewomen young and old perish mysteriously, the king’s nephew — his sister’s only child — grows toward manhood. But unbeknownst to the king or the boy, strange, haunted Tobin is the princess’s daughter, given male form by a dark magic to protect her until she can claim her rightful destiny.

Only Tobin’s noble father, two wizards of Illior, and an outlawed forest witch know the truth. Only they can protect young Tobin from a king’s wrath, a mother’s madness, and the terrifying rage of her brother’s demon spirit, determined to avenge his brutal murder….

The Bone Doll’s Twin relies heavily on its horror elements throughout the story to create an atmosphere with consistently dark undertones – as a result I felt as if the scenes throughout the book played out in muted tones in my head.  This blending of high fantasy with aspects of gothic horror definitely scratched an itch for me that I’d never thought I had, leading me to find a new interest in this particular brand of dark fantasy.

The other piece that made Flewelling’s story so compelling is how it plays with gender norms and sexuality – exploring what exactly compels us to act accordingly with society’s gender conventions.  While The Bone Doll’s Twin doesn’t dig as deep into these concepts as something like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, Tobin’s struggles to accept his/her role in not only the political scheming of the realm, but in the eyes of friends, family and self can be a lot to chew on and dissect as one navigates the intricate plotting of the novel.

Tobin’s overall journey is a fascinating one, reminiscent of (and very possibly influenced by) L. Frank Baum’s Princess Ozma from the iconic Oz series.  The other major characters are interesting as well, often pushed into making morally questionable choices; having to determine what costs are truly worth the so-called ‘greater good.’  The Bone Doll’s Twin is an effectively creepy and culturally poignant entry into the dark fantasy genre, and a solid start to Lynn Flewelling’s Tamir Triad – I look forward to reading the rest!