In the Lion’s Mouth
While the tropes glimpsed in Michael Flynn’s most recent science fiction novel, In the Lion’s Mouth (following The January Dancer and Up Jim River) are familiar and the novel takes place within the distinct milieu of the space opera there is a style and grace to Flynn’s work that makes these styles stand out from others of the same genre. This unique style, evident in both the previous novel’s, is brought to the forefront here with a particular flair. In the Lion’s Mouth continues the story of Donovan while at the same time exploring a new, and underutilized area of the world that Flynn has created. Taking place almost immediately after the events of Up Jim River, In the Lion’s Mouth opens with Bridget ban and her daughter Mearana await the arrival of Donovan. Instead they are interrupted by Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow of the Names.
With this elegant set-up (aided by the twist at the end of Up Jim River) the novel unfolds as a narrative (and part poem) as told by Ravn to Mearana and Bridget. Each of the major chapters are followed by an interlude in which Bridget and Mearana interrogate Ravn’s tale. While the ballad/oral component of these novel’s has been present since the first novel this is the first time where that aspect is so tightly woven into the narrative. The method seen here, first used in The January Dancer and to a lesser extent in Up Jim River actually works both as a means to tell Ravn’s story and as a means to further illuminate the strange bonds between Bridget ban, Mearana and Donovan. The way that each character reacts to Ravn’s story casts their different histories with Donovan into stark light revealing flaws in their perception of the man just as Ravn’s story begins to illuminate further depths to his character.
The bulk of the story of In the Lion’s Mouth deals with the kidnapped Donovan forced, or perhaps prodded towards, helping Ravn and some of the Shadows’ rebellion against the Names. What unfolds is a fascinating and exciting examination of the culture of the Commonwealth and the strange honor amongst the special operatives known as Shadows. Donovan though is the real star of the show once again. As in the last volume we are privy to the inner workings of his various personalities and their internal dialogue is as entertaining as ever. I don’t remember from Up Jim River but in addition to the seven primary personalities housed in Donovan’s fractured mind there appears to at least two more unnamed fragments. I suspect that they are important somehow but Flynn is surprisingly cagey about their presence.
An argument could be made (and is, if remember correctly, by Mearana) regarding how trustworthiness Rvn’s narrative. Is she telling Mearana and Bridget a story that she thinks they will respond to? There seems little doubt over the course of the novel that Ravn is trying to manipulation her listeners just as she was trying to manipulate Donovan, but the ability to discern her embellishments with the actual truth is almost impossible. In the end whether or not Ravn is telling the truth doesn’t matter. As the reader, as an impartial observer, the story that Ravn tells is still a damned entertaining one.
There are a lot of twists to In the Lion’s Mouth and delving too deeply into the story of Donovon’s travels through the Commonwealth might reveal a bit too much. In the Lion’s Mouth is definitely a refinement over the previous novels and so far represents the pinnacle of the strange blend of past and future that Flynn has created. If you are not reading this series you are missing out on one of the most original and well-crafted science fiction epics of this century. I can’t really think of any series that is remotely similar to Flynn’s and each new volume manages to deliver some new and engaging development that leaves me absolutely hungry for the next volume. While the January Dancer remains the most stand alone of the novel’s so far each has managed to tell a complete and satisfying tale from cover to cover. However, it should be noted that the latest volumes Up Jim River and In the Lion’s Mouth leave the reader with something a cliffhanger. I’ll be looking forward to the day when I can read all of these novels back to back.