30 April, 2012

Review - The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts

The best thing I can come up with to describe this book is that it's the most frustratingly amazing book I've ever read.

The Curse of the Mistwraith [US] [UK] is the first book in the epic fantasy series, The Wars of Light and Shadow. Wurts, arguably most notably known for her work with Raymond E. Feist in The Empire Trilogy is both an accomplished novelist and artist.

From the back of the book:
The world of Athera lives in eternal fog, its skies obscured by the malevolent Mistwraith. Only the combined powers of two half-brothers can challenge the Mistwraith's stranglehold: Arithon, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer, Lord of Light. Arithon and Lysaer soon find that they are inescapably bound to a series of events dictated by their own deepest convictions. Yet as the sorcerers of the Fellowship of Seven know well, there is more at stake than one battle with the Mistwraith: between them the half-brothers hold the balance of the world—its harmony and its future—in their hands.
I can see why The Curse of the Mistwraith is one of those love it or hate it kind of books. It's been called overly-long, overly-detailed, and overly-descriptive, but I didn't find that to be the case. Instead, I'd go with the word 'immersive,' a word more often used to describe imagery and 3D technology.

What polarizes readers of this book/series comes down to the writing. This is also the reason for the "frustrating" part of my above statement. Not only is it full of details and description, the phrasing itself is complicated and the ideas expressed are, therefore, difficult to grasp the first time through. I can honestly say I've never had to reread passages as often as I have with this book.

At the same time, I couldn't imagine anything different. The writing perfectly fits the story, giving it an epic feeling, making it feel like history in the making and your struggle draws you closer to the characters.

Sometimes it's just a phrase framed with a negative instead of a positive and while I loved this book, I had a really hard time being forced to reread so often. It's definitely not a book to take to bed with you or for any time when you are remotely tired. You need full brainpower for this one.

Wurts is an incredible writer in so many ways and what I really noticed is her ability to combine the "show don't tell" advice that's the typical writing advice with the moments when it's just better to tell. Character traits will be displayed through action or dialogue, but sometimes it's just better to tell a few things and Wurts is the master at it.

Like Robin Hobb, Wurts is also able to convince you that things are headed one direction only to completely turn things on their head. As much as you have to struggle with this book, it really draws you into the characters' lives and you can't help but feel attached to their pains and their triumphs and understand their motivations.

Along with the writing, the structure of the book is unique. After a short prologue, the book follows a pattern with a chapter, followed by two titled sub-chapters and then another prologue (essentially) with three lines that set up the next block of chapter/sub-chapters. The closest thing I can compare this to is Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, which has set-up chapters throughout to explore the entire world and begin foreshadowing events.

Probably best compared to The Wheel of Time in terms of complexity of plot and immersion into the world, the Wars of Light and Shadow series is something full of life where if the characters don't feel like good friends, you'll at least know them just as well.

If you want a challenge along the lines of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, in the sense that you need to be ready to apply yourself fully, that will having you living and breathing in another world altogether, you're in for a treat. While not everyone will connect with The Curse of the Mistwraith, those who do will really have a truly powerful experience.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (More than loved it)

Ps. Janny Wurts is also an amazing artist who's done all the covers (new and old) of this series plus the artwork at Fantasyliterature.com. Some people just have it all. :)

The Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts
Arc I
1) The Curse of the Mistwraith
Arc II: The Ships of Merior
2) The Ships of Merior
3) The Warhost of Vastmark
Arc III: Alliance of Light
4) Fugitive Prince
5) Grand Conspiracy
6) Peril's Gate
7) Traitor's Knot
8) Stormed Fortress
Arc IV: Sword of the Canon
9) Initiate's Trial
10) Destiny's Conflict (forthcoming)
Arc V
11) Song of the Mysteries (forthcoming)


bloggeratf said...

I tried real hard to get into this series given all the strong recommendations out there and I just couldn't. I felt somewhat confused when reading... maybe because there were too many unknowns. Not even sure. All I can say is that this one just didn't stick.

Bryce L. said...

It's definitely not for everyone and the author even admits this and sometimes a book just doesn't do it for no explainable reason. You're excused is what I'm saying. :D

mathias said...

"If you want a challenge along the lines of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, in the sense that you need to be ready to apply yourself fully,"

I guess I kind of get the sense of why Malazan has this reputation, with its scope, complexity, the breadth of ideas and threads and the occasional strangeness, but in terms of actual dedication and of challenge, I find him a prime example of a "light" read, in no disparaging way (for the most part, because some character aspects are a bit light), because I can dive in at all times and pause or return at any point at all. It was always like this to me, and I always found the reactions strange. I can't imagine prose being any more accessible (note that "stupider" wouldn't mean "more accessible).

Bryce L. said...

I get where you're coming from because I can put down a Malazan book and pick it up later with no problem. I think that comes more from the fact that I'm confused anyway, so what's a couple weeks/months in between.

The prose is fine for Erikson, it's the lack of information. Wurts has the opposite problem in having difficult prose. Each way, you have to be committed to concentration, more than any straight-forward, leisurely book will allow.

Sharad C said...

Just started this book. WOW ! Can't believe anyone can have such depth and understanding of the forces in nature and the forces within one's self. Superb.

Bryce L. said...

Well put. Have you read To Ride Hell's Chasm? She does the same with horses in that one. The horses become main characters just like the people, it's incredible.

Anonymous said...

I loved Hell's Chasm. It introduced me to Wurts'sn works, and she became an instant favourite. The Wars of Light and Shadow is a stunning epic masterpiece. I agree, a challenge on so many levels, and so rewarding :) Great review!