"Doppelganger" is another excellent first book by a new author. I was
almost turned off it from the cover art (leather-clad medieval
cheesecake) but the book itself turned out to be both well-conceived
and well written and had zero embarrassing cheese-cake/romance within
it. Ms. Brennan should shoot her publisher, especially since the
cover of her second novel, which I am reading now, is only marginally
better than that of the first.
Ah well, I should know better than to judge a book by its cover
(unless the cover says "Games Workshop"). What I discovered was a
story that combined aspects of detective novel, standard fantasy, and
speculative metaphysics. The real strength that Ms. Brennan has
brought to the table is her world-building, producing a compelling
world with a Western five-elements system at its heart. Each of the
five elements aligns with an aspect of the world's major (only?)
deity, the Goddess, in which the traditional three aspects of Maiden,
Mother, and Crone have been supplemented with Bride and Warrior.
Now here is where it gets personally interesting to me: the addition
of these aspects (representing sexuality and strength, respectively),
plus the centrality of the Goddess to her world's culture, produces a
strange creature: a profoundly feminist fantasy world. What I mean by
this is not that women are in charge (though the Witches of the world
rule an all-female domain, inhabited only by themselves and their
magic-less Cousins) nor that gender differences are blurred, but that
the configuration of powers in the world does not put either gender in
a clear position of superiority over the other.
It's really a curious thing to read a fantasy novel in which you
encounter lots of legitimate female characters, yet never a Tavern
Wench or a Princess or a Ball-Busting Fighter or an Old Peasant Woman
or any of the other standard tropes. Even though one of the main
characters is a seriously ass-kicking mercenary (and one of the joys
of the book is watching her and her partner being bad-ass competent
all over the continent) we are never treated to loving descriptions of
her clothing or her secret inner girl.
But enough about that. It's just so much of a breath of fresh air
that I needed to rant about it for a while, especially given another
book I've been slowly struggling through where the women are basically
built around nothing but sex, shopping, and drama-queen excesses.
All told, "Doppelganger" impressed me as an apparently simple plot
laid over a well-defined, surprising, and lightly handled world that
gives depth to the simplicity. Two women find themselves on a
collision course for one another, and the results of the collision are
fascinating and profound---even if they smack slightly of deus ex
machina, the particular type of deus ex machina is well established
early on as a standard way in which things sometimes happen in the
world that Ms. Brennan has created. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed
it so much that I went on immediately to the sequel, and will look
forward to writing another review on that soon as well.