When is a hero not a hero? Judging from the write-up on the back cover, and the opening chapters of Inheritance, the first book of the Keys of Power trilogy by Simon Brown, the reader draws the assumption that the trilogy will centre on Prince Lynan, fourth born child of Queen Usharna, fathered by a famous general of the Queen's army; her third and final consort in a partnership forged on love rather than politics.
Lynan feels distanced from his mother the Queen, and is at an age -- between boyhood and manhood -- where he needs to find out more about his father in order to discover himself.
Within his mother's court, he is constantly reminded that his father was not noble-born, and being the fourth in line to inherit the throne he lacks power and popularity. Lynan has the odds stacked against him from the start. Obviously the underdog, he draws the reader's sympathy.
My curiosity was piqued; how was Brown going to manipulate this story-line to achieve his obvious intention of making Lynan king considering he is preceeded by the current regent, her first born son, Prince Berayma, his sister, Areava, and the second youngest son, Olio? The obvious answer, once the Queen dies, is to kill off the older siblings as quickly as possible, but that would make for a very short trilogy.
It transpires that after the death of Queen Usharna, Lynan becomes a scapegoat, blamed for a death in the palace. But before the powers behind the throne can bring their plot to fruition, Lynan flees the castle with three friends; his tutor/father-figure, Kumul, one of Lynan's few links with his father, and two acquaintances he has recently come by: the battle-scarred ex-soldier, Ager, (who fought beside Kumul during the Slaver War), and Jenrosa, a student magiker, who as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is forced to flee with Lynan and the rest of his company.
I was sure I was reading a formula fantasy novel. In Lynan we had a young "hero in making", while Kumul and Agar were two teacher/guide figures, and obviously Jenrosa, was there as Lynan's love interest, bound to be Lynan's consort as he ascended the throne by the end of the trilogy.
Unfortunately for me as the reader, the author had other ideas of how his story should pan out, including entwining a vampire in Lynan's fate. Not your usual high-fantasy addition. I also failed to realise that inheritances can come from both parents. Lynan could become a King, though not necessarily of his mother's kingdom.
He encounters the Chetts, a nomadic race who remember his father with respect. It also helps pave Lynan's way that his arrival among the Chetts is perceived as fulfilling one of their legends.
On one level it is as expected: the story of Lynan's journey from boyhood to manhood, as he accepts the mantle of leadership, though there are many unexpected twists and turns along the way.
And yet, even though Lynan has accomplished what he set out to do by the end of the trilogy, instead of triumphant hero, it appears his spirit is defeated. Brown argues that what ultimately makes Lynan a hero is his ability "to square up to what life throws at him, and no matter the personal cost -- no matter the damage to his psyche, his heart and his body -- he sees it through to the end."
It's an honourable sentiment, but I was left wanting more for Lynan after all he'd been through.
Having identified Lynan as "the hero" of the trilogy, then those who opposed him -- his older siblings -- must be "the enemy", not usually meant to draw the reader's sympathy.
But if that was the case, why was I having so much trouble hating them as I felt I should?
Lynan's antithesis seems to be his sister Areava, who always despised Lynan. Her dislike for him intensifies after he flees the castle, but never seems to develop beyond sibling rage as I thought would be the case. There was potential for a real battle of wills, and violent conflict between these two, especially when both achieve power, but that never came about. Neither was there reconciliation between them that I was hoping for.
It would have been easy and predictable to write Areava as a vengeful bitch, but she is sympathetically portrayed not only as a determined, capable monarch, but as a young woman falling in love. Through her we see that a Queen's love for her people takes precedent to a Queen's love for her family, as she realises when she sends her husband off to war. In Brown's words, "She is genuinely committed to devoting her life to her people." And by the end of the trilogy, that is exactly what she does. Brown describes her as his personal hero in the trilogy, the role I presumed was Lynan's.
Areava is supported in her role as monarch by her younger brother Olio, a prince with humanitarian leanings and obvious flaws, foremost being a noticeable stammer. When the pressure of his calling becomes unbearable, he succumbs first to alcohol, then to madness. Of all four holders of the Keys of Power, Olio is the most affected by the mystical capabilities the Keys seem to impart.
As with Areava, in Olio Brown had written a very likeable character, who similarly didn't wear the title of anti-hero well. Simon Brown says he combined the characters of Olio and Areava to counter Lynan and his followers, yet there's no direct conflict between these opponents as you'd expect in a more traditional fantasy. Olio becomes the fulcrum between Lynan and Areava, sympathetic to Areava, but never truly convinced of Lynon's guilt.
In Brown's writing the major characters are all heroes in their own right, even if most become tragic heroes. Brown acknowledges that he intended the trilogy to be a tragedy. But having become emotionally attached to many of the characters through the trilogy I wanted them to do more with their lives: to reach their full potential. There was no sense of conquest or accomplishment at this trilogy's end. Lynan, expected to be the hero of the piece, seems as if his spirit is defeated.
There are certain matters unresolved in the trilogy, and I was left wondering if there was a second trilogy in the offing? Simon Brown states that while there's no plan for another trilogy, there is one more instalment in the series that he would eventually like to write.
Simon Brown started reading and writing science fiction before he had reached his teenage years. He has had many short stories published in magazines and anthologies in Australia and America. A collection of his short stories, Cannibals in the Fine Light was published by Ticonderoga Press. His first two science fiction novels, Winter and Privateer were published by HarperCollins in the late 1990s. The first two books of his new fantasy trilogy, "Chronicles of Kydan", were published by Tor earlier this year, and are available through amazon.com, as are the Keys of Power books.
Simon lives on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia, with his wife, two children, and a very large dog.