Tim's Reviews > The Curse of the Mistwraith

The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts
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Jun 09, 12

Read in June, 2012

It's part of the ol' risk/reward system, I think: For every strength born of boldness and bigness in "The Curse of the Mistwraith," small weaknesses tag along, poking at you but not really hurting.

The first book in Janny Wurts' mammoth and not-yet-completed fantasy series, "Mistwraith" isn't for everyone but has so many attributes that it, and the series, should be better known. Wurts tries something that seems to draw criticism on this site and elsewhere, but to me is absolutely commendable: creating a long tale with rich, literary writing. Whereas the authors of many epic series boil down the style to barebones basics, perhaps to facilitate creation of mass quantity, Wurts massages every sentence with descriptive prose and still gets her books to readers in a reasonable time frame. Still, it seems to take Wurts a little while to find her groove here; early parts of the novel are a little over-descriptive, do toss in an extra showy adjective here and there. But she hits her stride, and the words really do sing for a remarkable part of the journey. The vividness of her writing is rare in fantasy.

In The Wars of Light and Shadow, the 11-book (in paperback, anyway) series of which this is the first part, Wurts also makes her magic big and bold. Almost all of the major characters are capable of sorcery/magic of considerable power. There is a mighty Fellowship of seven sorcerers who can communicate between worlds, look into possible futures, sense specific individuals at great distances, and are capable of incredible sorcerous powers. The main characters are half-brothers — princes — transported through worldgates from a splinter world to Athera, where it is hoped their combined might will vanquish the Mistwraith and eliminate the pall of mist that has shrouded the world for 500 years. Lysaer has the gift of light, Arithon the gift of shadow, but it would be wrong to make light/dark, good/bad assumptions about them, or to assume much of anything. The half-brothers' "defeat" of the entity at the book's midpoint isn't all they'd hoped for, and in fact the Mistwaith curses them to perpetual enmity. For Lysaer in particular, his killing hatred of Arithon becomes an obsession. Their confrontations yield incredible gouts of magic and are increasingly awesome. Still — and here's another small weakness, for me, among a general strength — the magic is a little too plentiful and too powerful for my tastes. This book, anyway, is about the powerful and not the everyman, so those who like their fantasy all about wee folk and the ordinary might want to look elsewhere.

The sorcery on display promises to have logical properties, but Wurts, limited by the scene-setting of a series opener, is only able to scratch the surface of everything in a tale that also features a group of enchantresses sometimes at cross purposes with the sorcerers; tales of legendary, long-lost mythical creatures (roughly, centaurs, unicorns and elf-like folk) whose return the sorcerers hope to bring about; rural clans at odds with city folk; lanes of earth power used to scry and travel great distances; the worldgates and the splinter worlds; and an extraordinary back story.

There are many sides to characters and many motivations for the movers and shakers, and Wurts sometimes doesn't make things easy on her readers. Conversations sometimes are subtle enough you have to work hard to understand the nuances of what is said and what is going on. Events occasionally are presented from more than one point of view, and readers are in the middle to decide for themselves. Also, there is much scrying and looking into possible futures and prophecies. Many times, we know ahead of time what will happen, generally. My telling you, for instance, that Lysaer and Arithon will banish the mists is not a spoiler; we already know (nearly certainly) that it will happen. What we don't know are the details, the twists on that which is foreseen. It's like watching a sporting event when we know the score but not what happened, and maybe we're not completely certain who won. Although Wurts negotiates this self-created, very difficult terrain beautifully, sometimes I wished I didn't have a sorcerer's foreknowledge of some events.

As I said, Wurts gets better as she goes along. The three major magical confrontations get increasingly fabulous. The mid-book battle with the Mistwraith is slightly disappointing. Weaknesses among strengths again: the author attempts to give us detailed descriptions of the magic that's happening, but I didn't always understand it. At times it was like reading a description of music. Later though, as Lysaer and Arithon become increasingly antogonistic, the light/shadow concussions of magic work better.

Wurts also weaves in music; Arithon has the potential to be a masterbard but, like Lysaer, is descended from royalty and conflicted because of that legacy. Pathos and tragedy and sorrow will hound these two powerful workers of magic doomed to be at each other's throats for hundreds of years.

The book gets 3 stars but could just as easily receive 4; I'm leaving room for expected improvement in what promises to be an incredible story (there are two books yet to go). Wurts, who seems completely in control of what is happening, is doing something quite remarkable here. This is rich, intricate, sometimes spectacular stuff.
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