The Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling

(This “review” was originally posted 4/11/2006 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has been edited, just a little, for  some coherency, spelling and grammar. It has NOT been edited for style, and it is blunt and tactless and appallingly unfluid. I apologise. Since I wrote this review, a fourth book has been added to the series, but I’m not talking about it here.)

 

This is not a trilogy.
This is not a trilogy.
This is not a trilogy.

– Lynn Flewelling.

The Nightrunner series, so far [as of 2006], consist of a duology and a “sequel“. Luck in the Shadows was released as far back as 1996, Stalking Darkness followed soon after in 1997, and Traitor’s Moon came out in 1999. I think she’s writing a fourth book at the moment. At least, I hope so. [Shadow’s Return was published in 2008.]

Four nations lie on the coast of the Gathwyth Ocean. Mycena, Plenimar and Skala are inhabited by humans. Aurenan is the land of the Aurenfaie (generis elegantly humanlike otherly magical race). The stories and characters concern themselves, for the most part, with Skala and her relations with the other nations.

Luck in the Shadows (Nightrunner)

Luck in the Shadows

“When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things – none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is travelling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail…”

LitS is a good opening novel, for a series or for a duology. It introduces us to the two main characters, makes clear the differences between them and proceeds to develop those two characters without essentialising them. (I’ll talk more about characterisation a bit later in this review.) The plot rushes – and admittedly, sometimes it plods. The story alternates between the epic and the spy thriller feels. Flewelling’s prose is mostly functional, but her delivery is still fluid. I laughed, and I held my breath, and I worried.

LitS seems to merely set the stage for Stalking Darkness, but in its way it is as important as that, more epic-y, book. It introduces us to the Skalan capital of Rhiminee, glances back at vast portions of Skalan (and other) history, sets the main characters (and their supporting cast for us to follow them as they go about their nefarious/heroic deeds… and makes us understand where the priorities – the novels’, the characters’ – lie. It also raises the dual magic/political issues and concerns that Seregil (and therefore Alec) are immersed in.

All in all, it is an entertaining read, and is the sort of book you find yourself thinking about after you’re done reading it – Flewelling has a definite flavour of her very own.

Stalking Darkness (Nightrunner)Stalking Darkness

Stalking Darkness is both a good and a bad book. It makes a return to the darkness that Luck in the Shadows intermittently commits to, and brings its people forward and fleshes them out… If Luck in the Shadows was ultimately the political half of this duology, Stalking Darkness is entirely given to the magical, and the emotional. Our heroes must Save The World, etc.

There are problems with the book. For one thing, the pace of the novel plods a bit more than it rushes. (And where it rushes it’s in too much of a hurry.) Part of the reason why the pacing is so uneven is that the plot divides between the quest, and the characterisation. Flewelling is taking her time to ensure that all her characters – Alec, Seregil, the wizard Nysander, their friends Micum and Beka Cavish – are not token questors but rather have developed personalities that we would recognise even if they weren’t involved in the epic narrative (and some of them, in point of fact, aren’t). It’s only when I put the book down that I realised that, objectively, things were going rather slow. I didn’t mind it while I was reading – and I still don’t.

A lot of the novel is dedicated to Alec’s growth as a character and as a person – necessary both for the exigencies of the plot and also to ensure that he can at some point interact with Seregil as an emotional equal, however limited his years and experience. It is a gradual, subtle, and delightful unfolding, and it means that when and if he enters into a relationship with Seregil there will be little of the disturbing I-am-young-meat-in-bed-with-a-father-figure feeling that one sometimes gets with young/old romantic pairings. It’s good, and it’s great.

But Bad Things Happen in the last third of the novel. The text allows Seregil to be affected by them. However, Alec’s emotional involvement in those events are sidetracked in order to continue with the original mission statement. It’s in the text that Alec is not as affected as someone else who had been through the same experiences would be, and I find this disturbing, and even annoying. It’s almost like watching a Joss Whedon production: at times, the characters move at the speed of plot, rather than the speed of character.

It’s a small thing, taking up very few pages, but it disturbs me. A- instead of A.

Traitor's Moon (Nightrunner)

Traitor’s Moon

Traitor’s Moon takes place about two years after the events of Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness. As Flewelling states, you don’t need to read the previous two to understand what is happening here, though since she has two kids to put through college she’d rather you did. (Maybe they’ve graduated by now?)

Skala is in the middle of war with Plenimar, and she is losing. Alec and Seregil accompany a diplomatic mission to Aurenen, Seregil’s childhood home, negotiating for the things you negotiate for when you need aid in wartime, and there are complications, and skulduggery, and alien cultural misunderstandings, and dragons.

This latest novel marries the fantastic and the politic, carrying the plotlines forward side by side and often together. It’s not a fast paced novel, though I usually find detective fiction to proceed at its own speed, one that’s faster than I feel it to be.

Characterisation here is patchy. Alec and Seregil are beautifully handled. They are logically consistent within the novel and within the series. They are not static, they move forward at the speed of character and not of plot.

I have VERY big problems with women who decide that they do not want to be attracted to/do not want to fall in love with a particular man whom they meet near the opening of the novel before they get to know the man in question. I don’t care how that particular plotline turns out, whether they never do anything, shag like monkeys, fall in love, stay friends, become enemies – make up the combination of your choice. I don’t like that “I don’t want to” moment. It puts me off. It has ruined Beka Cavish – a fairly pivotal supporting character – for me, and makes me want to say bad things about what was done with her. I’ll confine myself to liking her role as a person and within the exigencies of the plot, and her heart and her uninteresting man can both go hang. (Aren’t I a lovely objective reviewer?)

<clears throat> To put it bluntly: If I like what was done with our main characters, who are, after all, the only people we are ultimately concerned with, I still think that the supporting characters (those who will recur through the series and who appeared only in this novel) lacked a certain depth. The antagonising characters are drawn with a bold, complicated, you-think-you-know pen, and I love the shifting intricacies of the plot and the society our heroes find themselves in.

I’m a sucker for a poignant ending, and for new beginnings. Traitor’s Moon gives me both.

There’s good dialogue in these books (she even manages a bearable “I shall give you history” conversation). There’s a well-developed world, with a layered history and layered peoples. There’s an interesting story, and interesting heroes – who will not stay static but will grow, and change, and live (there’s some lovely foreshadowing going on in Traitor’s Moon). There’s a war – we all know those work out fine. There’s darkness, and light.

What do you sacrifice? Well, the prose is not really going to be more than functional. Every so often the supporting cast will look a bit fuzzy. Sometimes there will be quest-travelling.

Try Flewelling. You might find she’s worth it.

EDIT: Luck in the Shadows, I have just rediscovered, has a very short, and very bad, prologue. I must have suppressed it to recover from the trauma.

It is very short, though, so I survived.

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