Janny Wurts: Stormed Fortress

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Lochaber Axeman, QC
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Published by Harper Collins, November 2007, trade paperback, available from the UK, NZ, AUS

Stormed Fortress is the latest installment of The Wars of Light and Shadow, a multi-volume epic that has as its main plot a constant conflict between two half-brothers, Arithon s'Ffalenn and Lysaer s'Illessid. This battle is the direct result of a curse placed on the brothers by a sentient entity called Desh-Thiere (the Mistwraith), which ensures the brother's savage enmity, thus peventing them from acting together to completely defeat Desh-Thiere, which threatens humanity's survival, and the other less urgent evils that plague the world of Athera. The conflict has deeper roots on which to base itself, such as the centuries-old enmity between the townborn and the clans. Lysaer allies with the townborn, and Arithon with the clans, and the Mistwraith uses this old conflict to deepen the bitterness of the war. Each brother is incredibly but distinctly gifted, and their respective strengths are twisted to deepen the conflict.

Stormed Fortress is the the last book in The Alliance of Light, which is the third story arc in The Wars of Light and Shadow, and as a result a lot of sub-plots are wound up, and in a way that makes the faithful reader of this series almost explode with each turn of the page. This is easily the strongest book of The Alliance of Light arc, and the difficulty that some related about Peril's Gate (book 3 in the arc) is not at all present, and in fact, is proved to have been the necessary set-up for this spectacular conclusion to the arc. Of particular strength in this book is the exploitation of characters by their individual weaknesses to make them do things that they would not otherwise do.

What I find most thrilling about Stormed Fortress, and the series as a whole, is that it is in no way predictable. The villains in this series are multi-dimensional, believe themselves to be on the side of right, and at times are sympathetic. Also, the so-called good guys are not necessarily good all the time. The conflict is a very human one, and is therefore very honest. There is no Dark Lord here, but rather the much more ordinary and everyday human evil, which is perhaps much harder to face. Even Desh-Thiere, by the hints that Wurts has dropped throughout the series, has something of a tragic countenance and it is probably borne of human conflict. As a result, this read is not escapism, but it is a book (and a series) that makes you better for having read it.

Wurts uses the siege of the s’Brydion fortress of Alestron to focus the conflict between the half-brothers Arithon and Lysaer in such a manner that the conflict really becomes a battle inside all of the individual characters, not just the brothers. This is Wurts’ main strength. Her characters are all distinct, and do not remain static from book to book in this long a series, which is a complaint that I have about much epic fantasy. Also, her writing is a rich weaving of words that creates a tapestry that is evocative of a time when the reading world was not dumbed-down by text- messaging, e-language and reality television. Her prose is beautiful and multi-layered, her command of the written word is inspiring, and her world-building is unparalleled.

So many loose threads are wrapped up and woven into the tapestry of this series that the reader feels somewhat sated at the end, yet enough is left undone that leaves the reader eagerly awaiting the next book. For those of you who wanted an end to this series, there was no way Wurts could have done it in this book. It moves along crisply, and does an incredible job of winding up The Alliance of Light. However, the issues of s'Ffalenn succession to the Crown of Rathain, the fulfillment of the Black Rose Prophecy, the return of the Paravians, the re-unification of the Fellowship of Seven, Desh-Thiere in its prison on Rockfell, its big brother the free wraiths on on the neighbouring planet of Marak, and the resolution of the conflict between the two brothers all remain to be resolved, not to mention a number of major and minor sub-plots that I have not listed.

The Wars of Light and Shadow is an epic series with five story arcs. Arc IV is underway, and is entitled Sword of the Canon (Arc V is as yet untitled). Likely three books are forthcoming to add to the eight already released in this series. The two books in the Sword of the Canon arc are tentatively titled Initiate's Trial as volume 1, and Destiny's Conflict as volume 2. The fifth arc will likely be one book.

Do not read Stormed Fortress as a stand alone. If you have not read any in the series yet, start with The Curse of the Mistwraith, as The Wars of Light and Shadow is now at eight novels, and it is complex and full of sub-plots and developments that require the series to be read as a whole. It is truly epic fantasy that tackles issues of personal and societal morality, and it is not light sword-and-sorcery fluff. There is even an obvious and yet unintentional parallel with current events in our world, a fantastical illustration of how history so easily repeats itself. To the reader who has not started this series, I am envious of the great first-time reading that you will enjoy. A fabulous book, well worth the overseas shipping (I paid about $30.00 (CDN$, which is about the same as US$ right now) for the book including shipping through amazon.co.uk). 5 stars!
 

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