When I first read The Curse of the Mistwraith a few years ago, it took me completely by surprise. Based on (obviously mistaken) assumptions, I expected something completely different — epic fantasy, yes, but nothing even close to the gorgeous prose and astounding depth I found in this novel.
The plot of this story is hard to summarize, partly because there are so many twists and turns that it’s almost impossible not to run into spoiler territory very quickly. Two half-brothers, Arithon and Lysaer, are on opposite sides of a conflict that spans generations. As they become involved in the struggle against the Mistwraith that keeps the world of Athera in a stranglehold, the reader quickly realizes that the half-brothers’ conflict doesn’t just go back generations, but literally ages.
The Curse of the Mistwraith is old-fashioned, in a good way: rather than the standard cotton-candy fantasy tomes you often find nowadays, here’s a book that requires nothing less than the reader’s full attention and engages it on several levels, from the gorgeous prose to the elegant narrative structure to the real challenge of trying to understand many of the characters’ motivations.
There aren’t many wasted words in this book. I can’t remember the last time I had to go back and re-read sections so many times, both from a genuine desire not to miss too many details, and for the sheer pleasure of taking in the richness of the prose again.
Best of all, this is only book one of a longer series, which is still in the process of being completed. The Curse of the Mistwraith is (thankfully) a solid story on its own, not to say several stories — but at least it has a beginning, an end and no cliffhangers. At the same time, it sows a great many seeds and gives a lot of hints, some more oblique than others, about what will happen in the future. You’ll be satisfied by the ending, but at the same time, you’ll want more.
The one thing that originally had me balancing between giving it four stars or five on GoodReads is that, for a long time, I found it hard to connect with the majority of the characters. There are very few ordinary people in this book, not much light dialogue or humor, and early on it was hard for me to think of the characters as actual people. Especially the early part of the book consists of several tableaux in which everyone and everything is larger than life. However, as you read on, you discover that what initially seemed a weakness has a very solid motivation… and as you get into the last 100 or so pages of The Curse of the Mistwraith, the characters will have become very real and understandable.
I don’t want to hammer home the “old-fashioned” word (which, again, is meant in a very good way here), but I found myself imagining a different fantasy genre… one in which most of the last 30 years hadn’t happened. When hearing the word “fantasy,” people wouldn’t immediately think Harry Potter or hot vampires or twelve book series that never end. In such a world, you can probably still find an innocent reader, brand new to the genre, who just finished reading The Lord of the Rings and is now eagerly looking for something that has similar depth and elegance. If I were to make a reading list for such a hypothetical reader, The Curse of the Mistwraith would be very close to the top.