Here’s my review of Stormed Fortress, a great novel by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Janny Wurts. I’ve reviewed the entire Wars of Light and Shadow series in the past, but I am reposting this review here because it’s a ridiculously under-appreciated series that should have a much larger readership than it currently has.
If you haven’t read these books yet, rest assured: this review is relatively spoiler-free — or at least as much as a review of the eighth book in a series can be — but if you truly want to avoid any information about what came before, you can find my reviews of the earlier books in the series here on the Fantasy Literature site.
I have a copy of the newest book, Initiate’s Trial, on my shelves, and plan to review it as soon as I can get to it.
Stormed Fortress is the eighth novel in the Wars of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts, and the fifth and final novel in the Alliance of Light sub-arc. I’ve reviewed every novel in the series so far, and all of those reviews have been extremely positive, so by now it’s probably no secret that I’m a huge fan of these books and their author. That being said, Stormed Fortress is an outstanding novel even by the incredibly high standards of this series.
The conflict between the half-brothers Lysaer and Arithon continues unabated. The fortress mentioned in the book’s title is Alestron, home of the s’Brydion family which has played such a large and complex role in the conflict between Lysaer, the false avatar of the Light, and Arithon, the Master of Shadow. Lysaer leads the forces of his Alliance of Light to the s’Brydions’ doorstep, and through no fault of his own Arithon is drawn there too, which sets up the confrontation between the two half-brothers that’s been brewing throughout this arc.
Plot threads that were introduced four books ago at the start of the Alliance of Light arc come to fruition in Stormed Fortress. All the setup that took place in the earlier books pays off here, from Arithon’s involuntary doppelganger Fionn Areth to Lysaer’s complex and fascinating henchman Sulfin Evend. The Koriathain continue to plot, with Arithon’s love interest Elaira caught in the middle, and the Fellowship of Seven balances its long-term duties and goals with the immediate danger posed to the key players in this story.
As you’d expect from the title, a siege plays an important part in the plot of Stormed Fortress. And as people who are familiar with Janny Wurts would probably expect, the author describes this siege in a way that’s second to none. Just like the previous book in the series contained a description of a necromantic ritual that simply blew every other instance of necromancy in fantasy out of the water in terms of depth and attention to detail, what we get in Stormed Fortress is almost the platonic ideal of the description of a siege. The tension is practically unbearable, not in the least because the author manages to maintain it for hundreds of pages and describes it from various points of view, from the common soldier on up:
“Let us do what we can for your people.” Hard-set, dedicated to practical mercy, Talvish shouldered his captaincy. He was no sorcerer, no musician, no blood-born seer stung by the vista of far-sighted consequence. He accepted that he had naught else to give but the conviction of human resolve.
The amazing thing about this series is that it’s incredibly complex, but in a completely different way than you’d expect based on its size. Writing even a basic summary of the state of affairs at the end of this eighth novel would take up several pages. Janny Wurts achieves this level of complexity with a relatively small cast of characters, as opposed to series like Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, which features huge numbers of characters and races. With Janny Wurts, the complexity lies instead in the web of motivations that drives each of her characters, both as individuals and as part of whatever group or faction they belong to. Before I started reading this series, I was told that “it doesn’t sprawl, it deepens” — and now, after having read everything but the newest novel Initiate’s Trial, I understand completely what was meant by this: the story that’s being told here is essentially the same as the one we started out with at the beginning of The Curse of the Mistwraith, but throughout the series the author continues to reveal additional layers, reposition the markers, and explore the characters’ relationships and Athera’s deepest mysteries in ever-increasing depth. It’s no wonder that this is one of those series people end up reading and re-reading over and over.
I’m starting to get to the point where I will buy extra copies of The Curse of the Mistwraith, the first book in the Wars of Light and Shadow, to hand out to fantasy fans who haven’t discovered the series yet. It’s simply incomprehensible to me that more people aren’t reading these books. The entire series is back in print in the U.S., and the latest book in the series, Iniate’s Trial, should be appearing on shelves in the US soon, so if you are looking for an intellectually challenging but incredibly rewarding fantasy series to read, this is a great time to get started.