Monday, March 05, 2018

One Wisdom to Rule Them All: The Spinner Prince (Pride Wars) by Matt Laney

I AM LEO, PRINCE OF SINGARA, and I am about to die.

Time of death: tomorrow afternoon.

Cause of death: slaycon bite. It's not a pleasant way to go.

It is the custom in the Kingdom of Sinhara that on the first full moon after the thirteen anniversary of his birth, a crown prince must travel to the borderlands and kill a beast, the venomous slaycon, before he can succeed to the throne. But Leo, the grandson of the revered Raja Khan, feels unready.

I'm not exactly a textbook specimen of the Singa race. Most younglings at thirteen are nearly full grown and ready for battle. I'm small for my age. My mane has not yet bloomed. My roar is a cublike yowl.

But Leo is unlike his peers in an even more dangerous way. In a kingdom which values science and logic above all, he is a Spinner with the forbidden fiction affliction, the urge to storytelling. If discovered, Spinners are under penalty of having their tongues cut out and being exiled to the land of the enemy, the Maguars, and Leo has long struggled to conceal this trait which forces itself upon him at unwonted times. His grandfather is old, and the time has come for Leo to prove himself. worthy of his succession. But as he begins his journey to face the slaycon, he suffers an attack of the affliction which leaves him weakened but with a stranded spirit companion who promises to appear on his behalf in his ordeal.

Leo slays the beast with the advice of the spirit Oreyon whom he summons by name, but when he makes his return to the Khan's Palace, he is not feeling triumphant. His uncle Tamir is clearly gathering forces to overthrow his claim to the throne, and when Leo journeys to the Academy for his two years of required training, he finds that the corps there is also filled with followers of Tamir. Only his quadron, the four fighters to whom he is assigned, are loyal to him. And then comes fearful news.

The Academy leader reaches the high table, her eyes downcast. "We are .... honored to have General Dagan visit, but she brings difficult news.

Our great leader and lord, Raja Kahn, is dead. He took his last breath this morning."

His rivals are spreading the story that the Border Wall has been breached by the Maguars and that invasion from their ancient enemies is imminent. And when Leo returns to Singara, guarded only by his youthful quadron, his enemy Tamir is clearly determined that he will never assume the throne of the Khan of Singara. But one of his spirit mentors, Shanti, shows him a different way.

"The only way to vanquish Hasatamara, the true enemy, is not with war but by bringing the Singa and Maguar back together as one Pride of Leos."

Can young Leo, who shares the storytelling second sight of the Maguars, be the force that reunites the long separated lion people into one peaceful kingdom? In his first book in a proposed series, The Spinner Prince (Pride Wars) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), author Matt Laney draws on diverse folklore and literary (shades of J.R.R. Tolkien!) roots to create a story of post-apocalyptic times when humans are replaced by a race of highly evolved lion nation-states, once one people but divided for centuries into two warring kingdoms, one devoted to reason and science and one which follows religion and art.

There is a deep metaphor at the heart of what appears to be a heroic adventure story, in quasi-medieval martial setting, of the grand division of mind into its two opposing areas, left brain and right brain, art and faith vs. science and logic. The stripling Prince Leo, still far from his mature physical powers, has been both cursed and blessed with the power of understanding both lineages of their race, and the closing of the book ends with Leo leading his meager but loyal forces through the Border Wall into the lands of the Maguar in a quest for the one wisdom to rule them all.

Young Leo's struggles with what it means to lead and its vivid settings and fast-paced martial action keep this thoughtful story of power and wisdom moving along in an intriguing fantasy hero story for middle readers, one which promises several sequels.

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