Hidden Warrior is the second installment in Lynn Flewelling’s TAMIR TRIAD about Tobin, the rightful heir to the throne of Skala who is being magically hidden as a girl until it’s time for her to challenge the king. As this book begins, Tobin has just discovered the horrifying truth about himself, but he must still stay hidden until it’s time for the big reveal. He’s now living at the castle as a Companion to the prince. He’s nervous about the future because he genuinely likes his cousin, the presumed heir, and he is treated well by his uncle, though he occasionally sees glimpses of the king’s unpredictable bad temper and sees how he mistreats the wizards and others who speak against him or mention the prophecy about a hidden queen.
As Tobin nears puberty, he still thinks of himself as a boy, but his gender identity confusion begins to increase. He is noticeably smaller than the other boys, lacks facial hair, enjoys making jewelry, and has no interest in girls. Even though he excels at fighting and battle tactics, he’s also sensitive and squeamish about the king’s harsh punishment of “traitors.” Worst of all, he’s falling in love with his squire, Ki, who has no idea that Tobin is really a girl. Though the gender identity issue is the big theme in the TAMIR TRIAD, it’s handled gently, without any sort of preachiness.
Tobin has plenty of other things to worry about, too, such as Brother, who is becoming less controllable, the malicious man who acts as his guardian, and the scheming duke who is steward over his lands. There are other plots he doesn’t even know about yet, but that will surely affect him in the future. Meanwhile, the country begins to suffer from plague and there are murmurs about the prophesied queen who will set things right. The king and the prince show their cruel sides more often as their popularity wanes, and Tobin’s magical allies have had to go into hiding.
Flewelling’s story continues to entertain me, mostly because her world and characters are so well developed and I’ve come to sincerely care about Tobin’s plight. The simple plot isn’t quite hefty enough to carry three books, so this installment’s pace lags at times, sometimes feeling a little like the infamous “middle book.” There’s also a lot of angst that doesn’t quite feel gratuitous, but does fill a lot of page space. In general, though, I feel very forgiving about the pace because I like the story, though I think it helps that I read Hidden Warrior while leisurely working on a jigsaw puzzle during the couple of lazy days after Christmas.
Just like the previous book, The Bone Doll’s Twin, this one ends on an exciting cliffhanger. You’ll definitely want to have the third book, The Oracle’s Queen, ready to go. I’ve been listening to Victor Bevine narrate the audio version, which is very good.