Book Review: Maledicte (Lane Robins)

I’d been on a quest for a fantasy book I could fall in love with for months. In particular, a fantasy book where I could fall in love with the characters. When I found Maledicte (2007) by Lane Robins, it almost lay unread in my pile of books out from the library right now. But I am so thrilled I took the chance to spend my time with Robins’ characters.

In a world where the gods and goddesses have killed each other off, a young thief named Maledicte comes to the King’s court as a nobleman with a simple goal: kill the man who kidnapped his lover, Janus. For Maledicte this is more than a goal, but a promise made to Black-Winged Ani, who has granted him Her favor in exchange for the completion of his bloody quest. The gods are not dead after all.

1108884But a synopsis doesn’t do the book justice. For one, this is a trans story (the summary on the back of the book describes the novel as a standard woman-dresses-up-as-a-man plot-line; it’s not.). We meet Maledicte when he is the young thief Miranda. Robins only refers to Maledicte by his birth name (Miranda) in the first chapter. From then on, Maledicte is “he”, “the boy”, and eventually “Maledicte” once he chooses his own name. Robins invokes Miranda only in moments of  Maledicte’s weakness or uncertainty in himself. Yet the novel does not demonize being a woman. It is simply that Maledicte is not a woman. He is a trans man in a world without the language to discuss trans identity.

The novel is about love and vengeance. Between Maledicte’s love of his servant Gilly, and his lover Janus, his gender plays a secondary role. This is a story about revenge, power and morality. It is the best revenge story I have read, because it remains complicated even as it spirals into bloody madness.

What struck me the most about this novel is that it is both perfectly plotted and still character-driven. Robins has a keen eye for foreshadowing as her plot spirals toward its inevitable end (which is somehow shocking, endearing, hopeful, and gives every character what they want–for better or worse).

However, I have some serious critiques. The main female character, Mirabile (even while she is an excellent foil to both Maledicte and Janus) fits the women-as-mad trope, and I wish she had been granted more complexity and growth.

Another character who is severely shafted is Adiran–the King’s son–who is autistic, and serves as the reason the King has no current viable heir. The description of Adiran’s autism is difficult to read because Robins’ characters see Adiran as forever-a-child, and an empty shell of a person.

Even with the novel’s flaws, I fell in love with Maledicte. I fell in love with his servant Gilly. This is a novel to question your own morality and I would recommend it to anyone searching to fall for characters in a fantasy.