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Clan Daughter, by Morgan Howell
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Published: 2007
Review Posted: 3/4/2008
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Clan Daughter, by Morgan Howell

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

*Warning: Spoilers for the first book in the series*

The second volume of Morgan Howell's Queen of the Orcs series, Clan Daughter, is better than the first one (King's Property). Unfortunately, that's not saying a lot, as the first one was very flawed but interesting. This time, Howell manages to improve that to just flawed, but still intriguing. He does a masterful job with Orcish society, but once again the characters fall flat and the book is a chore to get through. It's well worth it, though, if only for the Orcs.

After the climactic battle at the end of the first book, Dar must lead the five Orc survivors to safety, away from the warring human factions. She must also fight her growing feelings for one of the Orcs, her protector, Kovok-mah. As they journey toward the Orcish homeland, Dar slowly begins to be accepted by the other Orcs, who eventually see her (as all Orcish females) as representing "the Mother," or the Orcish goddess. Dar learns as much as she can about the culture, but all of that knowledge may not help her be accepted once they are among other Orcs. Beset by dark prophecies of doom both for her and her fellow Orcs, Dar must hatch a daring plan to rescue the Orcish queen from the clutches of the humans, but even that may not be enough to allow her and Kovok-mah to be together as they wish.

First, I have to compliment Howell's society building. I can't really say "world-building," because he doesn't do much with the human side other than some "king under the influence of a dark mage" stereotypes and his reach doesn't really go beyond the one human faction. However, his Orcs are magnificent, and I loved the process of learning how their language and culture work. Howell has created an extremely detailed race, and it's obvious a lot of thought went into it. It's no wonder he wants to explore it.

Dar is the instrument of that exploration, her and her growing attraction to Kovok-mah. It's understandable that she would feel this way, given the fact that it's the rare human who has treated her well. What it also is, unfortunately, is dull. The characters are clearly centerpieces Howell uses to explore the culture, and most bits of characterization show up only to define some other aspect of the Orcs. Thus, the journey to the Orcish homeland, with the exception of a few action scenes, is dry as dust. Things pick up slightly when they get to the Orcish city and we see some intrigue as well. But things don't really get moving until we're back dealing with humans again, and how they interact with Orcs. Once I reached there, it was a breakneck pace to the end of the book, with revelation after revelation, racing to a nice cliffhanger ending.

The pace isn't especially helped by the occasional inclusion of scenes from the human point of view. We have a couple of scenes with Dar's human paramour, Sevren, but they seem included almost to remind us that there is a greater part of the story than just Dar's love affairs or to show how dark the wizard is (oh, he uses children in his bloody rites...what an eeeeeeeeeevil man!). The map at the beginning of the book isn't any different than the first book, except that it once again shows Dar's journey as it happens in Clan Daughter. Thus, it's useful for helping show the reader just where everybody's going, but my criticism of how small the world is stands.

While all of that made the book slow, it's more than made up for by the depth of detail within the Orcs. For example, Orcs aren't capable of subterfuge (though Dar finds out relatively quickly that this might not necessarily be true). Yes, it's cliched to have a female-dominated society, but Howell demonstrates how this isn't the run of the mill matriarchy found in many fantasy books. Every once in a while, during Dar's journey, we see hints at what she's going to have to do during the rest of the book and in the finale, and how she's going to take her place among the Orcs.

Since both Clan Daughter and "King's Property" (and probably the third book as well) were written at the same time, it's obvious that the prose wasn't going to improve from one book to the next. That being said, it is fairly sparse and low-key. The scenes are quick, end abruptly and make the prose seem like its intended for a younger audience. The content, however, definitely is mature, so don't let the writing fool you. It's a jarring disconnect, but once you get into the rhythm of the book it isn't that bad.

Clan Daughter isn't much better than the first book in the series, but it does show improvement and grips you just enough that you want to keep reading. Even if it's hard to get through, the trip is worth it, and Howell has set it up for a whale of an ending. I just hope he doesn't slow it down again and we don't get 200 pages of tedium before getting to the good stuff. Three times in a row would get really annoying.
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