Mark Lawrence's Reviews > The Curse of the Mistwraith

The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Dec 22, 2015

The Curse of the Mistwraith is a book that had been sitting on a shelf in our bathroom for many years before I picked it up and blew off a thick layer of dust. I’d never heard of the book but I knew the author’s name well because she co-authored (with Raymond E Feist) one of my favourite fantasy trilogies, The Empire Trilogy. I’ve enjoyed a good number of other books penned by Raymondy all by himself, but I’ve always wondered how much of the magic in The Empire Trilogy came from Janny Wurts.

TCOTM came out in 1993 … 23 years ago! And the series in its various sub-groups is now 10 books long with (I think) 2 more to come. My copy is a 4th edition paperback printed in 1997, and the book has nearly 4,000 ratings on Goodreads, which for a book that came out well over a decade before Goodreads was created is an impressive total. All this is to say that the book clearly sold well and has many fans.

The Curse of the Mistwraith is a big fat fantasy. My copy has over 800 pages. It’s 226,000 words, which is longer by some margin than any book I’ve ever written and nearly three times the length of Prince of Thorns.

It’s a long book and I have quite a lot to say about it. Not all of those things are good, but some are, and the parts that aren’t are all a matter of taste.

Let’s segue into music. I don’t like jazz. Sorry jazz fans. I actually have spent a pleasant evening in a jazz club … but I’m never going to sit down in my own home and listen to the stuff. Now, you could wheel in the world’s most talented musician, a genius capable of the highest quality in any musical genre, and have them play jazz for me. I still wouldn’t like jazz. But I would probably be able to tell that the jazz was being extremely well played. Janny Wurts has, in TCOTM written a book I’m not a great fan of extremely well.
Actually, I liked the first 50 pages a fair bit, soldiered on through the next 600 or so, and enjoyed the last 200.

There are two main elements I’m going to discuss. The first is the writing, the second the story-telling / plot.

Writing-wise Wurts has clearly made a definite choice (jazz). It’s not a failing or a mistake, and I’ve seen her write in another style, but here she has opted for HIGH FANTASY, about as high as you can get it. I’m not adverse to a bit of high-falutin’ prose myself, and I like to get the language to exercise its power. But for me I like to strive for efficiency, where less is more, and to save my more purple prose for high-points where I feel the story has earned me a spot of indulgence. In TCOTM the prose is wordy. Think Tolkien (who I love) but turned up to 11.

This is a not atypical dialogue tag: the aged crone tartly qualified.

And lines such as this are common:
The incongruity of their wholeness against the surrounding wreckage was a dichotomy fit to maim the soul: for their lines were harmony distilled into form, and strength beyond time's attrition.

Archaic expressions such as “it is not meet that” meaning “it is not proper that” abound.
Now, I’m no puritan and I don’t object to occasional ornamentation, but when you get page after page where every line is of this richness, it can become too much. You start to feel as if you’re eating a ten course banquet where every course is Christmas pudding.

Before I over-play this aspect many readers praise Wurts to the skies for her prose, and I can see the talent in it. It’s very well done. She has some wonderful turns of phrase and descriptions. She has a poet’s eye for scenery. And, after 600 pages either I got used to the style or it mellowed as action took over from … not action … because toward the end of the book my eyes managed to see past the ornamentation to the meaning without distraction.

The second aspect of the book I want to address is the story-telling. For me the book begins well with some excitement, action, magic, and threat, two main characters are introduced and it’s all full of promise.

After that, for more than the length of a regular book, TCOTM adopts a very different style. In many ways it’s unique and bold for a fantasy book. The rate at which stuff happens slows to a crawl. Threat and tension largely take a hike, and we spend 500 pages on traveling about a wet and misty countryside slowly world building while our two main characters and a small collection of wizards agonize over what choices to make.

The book focuses on two princes imported from a different fantasy world to end the curse of the mistwraith. This curse is that the land is shrouded in mist (and so we have a lot of description of wet, dripping, chilly, misty, foggy landscapes). One of our princes would rather be a musician and the burden of an unwanted throne and responsibility vex his heart. There’s a lot of too-ing and fro-ing over this. The mages scry this and that, view possibly futures, look into the princes’ hearts, figure the odds, hold meetings … it goes on.

There’s nothing wrong with this. There’s no reason a fantasy book has to be filled with sword swinging and lives in peril and enemies charging over the ridge… A mature reader (whatever their age) can enjoy personal interactions and dilemmas, world-building, magical displays…
But for me it dragged. Perhaps it’s an immature desire in me for some threat/conflict and for it to have a face/character.

Slight spoilers concerning the lack of threats:
(view spoiler)

Moderate spoilers:
(view spoiler)

A lot of the plot concerns prophecies and calculations of the future. Which always feels a bit arbitrary to me. The two princes aren’t driving things forward. We’re not dealing with the ambitions or plans of the two young men, rather it’s the 500 year old plans of 1000 year old men who we only see implementing those plans and whose driving ambition is simply that fate roll out to maximise harmony and well-being while undoing some ancient wrongs to let the vanished races (centaurs, unicorns, and sun-children) back into the world.

One prince, Arithron, master of shadows, Teir’s’Ffalenn has a sword, Alithiel. We get a chapter entitled Alithiel’s story which (though only 8 pages) is pretty much all about the sword’s manufacture. 10,500 years ago 12 blades were made by a centaur, each blade took 5 years to make plus another 5 years for the sorcery to make and keep it sharp. Then the swords went to the Sun-Children for finishing. 21 masters took 10 years to make Alithiel’s hilt… And the unicorns had to sing songs of defence.

We see the sword pulled out when a bunch of dragon-things threaten. Its light strikes them down. We don’t see any more of the dragon-things. There’s one time the sword’s cut brings our prince out of a dangerous trance/madness. And that’s pretty much it for Alithiel after all that build up. When Arithron finally does swing it in battle (in the last 200 pages where things hot up) it just seems like a regular sword.

I mention this because I feel it gives an indication of the general balance between build-up and resolution through-out the book.

Anyway. The plan is to impose these two princes on the city folk who hundreds of years ago rebelled against royalty. The remnants of the aristocracy are now wild clansmen who raid the trade-routes between the cities. Strangely the cities with their guilds and labour organisations are portrayed as dens of iniquity and evil, while the bandits raiding them centuries later are the good guys. I was rather rooting for the city-folk when they showed resistance to the idea that this young man should take over since he was related to the king their ancestors killed five centuries before and a mage said they should. I know I shouldn’t let my views get in the way of a good story, but it did feel rather heavy handed how those who weren’t in favour of giving up self-determination in favour of a king were almost-uniformly painted as terrible people.

Let’s put all that behind us. After 600 pages of politicking, agonizing, magicking and world-building the shit finally hit the fan and suddenly, and against my lowered expectations, I started enjoying myself again. Wurts writes very good battle scenes. She writes dark, bloody fights, and gives no quarter. Good people die nasty deaths, nobody is safe, children and puppies explode. The last 200 pages were fun.

So in the end I’m going to repeat myself. Wurts has, with great talent, written a book that mostly didn’t work that well for me. The reasons that I didn’t devour the work were a combination of the prose style and the focus of the story. These are choice the author took that are clearly very successful for many readers and may well be successful for you.
My advice would be to hop over to Amazon and click on the book – you can read the first few dozen pages.

Give it a go. This is a very rich, detailed, immersive world and if it clicks for you then there’s a hell of a ride ahead!

Join my 3-emails-a-year newsletter #prizes

106 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Curse of the Mistwraith.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

December 22, 2015 – Started Reading
December 22, 2015 – Shelved
February 2, 2016 –
page 550
February 11, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-42 of 42) (42 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Shadowdenizen Great, thoughtful review Mark!

This book is largely set-up for what's to come. It sets the general conflict that drives the entire rest of the saga, and sets up the foibles of each charcter so that actions taken in later books make sense, even if they're unexpected.

message 2: by David (new)

David I'd been curious about this author but having read this review I think I'll steer clear from her. I don't think I could enjoy it. I'm glad you did the work for me.

message 3: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight David,ihaven't read any other stuff yet . But I messaged her a while back and asked her a question . And she gave me great answer .I asked which of her books or series I should start with . She replied that a lot of books have greatly different tones .a lot of people have told me that as well . So I would consider getting her a try anyway . Even Mark said she's talented but it was just a matter of personal taste . He Even said it to her go so I would try if I were you

message 4: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight I meant to say he even said to give her a go .

message 5: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Justin wrote: "I meant to say he even said to give her a go ."

I did. Readers who have rated my work highly have raved about this series.

I owed an honest review but I didn't intend to put people off forming their own opinion.

message 6: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight That's why I've been reading a lot of your reviews lately . They are honest and even if something isn't your cup of tea you could still recognize its worth . That's the kind of honest review I like .keep writing cool reviews

Jeanette I am one of those that does like Janny Wurt's books,
Shadowdenizen, is correct that much of this book is the prelude buildup for the rest of the series.

I also think one does have to remember that 23 years ago
(when I read this book originally) archaic prose and slow build up with mostly world building in the first book or half a book, of a series was much more common. At that time I did not expect much action or tension until book 2 or 3, and If I remember correctly I enjoyed that the scenery and prose felt less like the info dumps of some of the other books at the time.

message 8: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney Schafer I personally didn't mind the pace of Curse of the Mistwraith--or the prose, though that did take a bit of adjustment--but for anyone who might want to give Janny's work a try but prefers faster-paced adventures, I'd suggest her standalone novel To Ride Hell's Chasm. Tons of action and very intense (the whole story takes place over a matter of a few days), and includes a pretty amazing chase sequence.

message 9: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight Janny recommended that one to me

message 10: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Courtney wrote: "I personally didn't mind the pace of Curse of the Mistwraith--or the prose, though that did take a bit of adjustment--but for anyone who might want to give Janny's work a try but prefers faster-pac..."

I suspect you (being a book-vacuum) read the thing in 2 days, whereas I took 6 weeks. It probably makes a difference. Your action/hour rate was a lot higher than mine :)

message 11: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney Schafer Mark--true! One of the benefits of being a fast reader, I suppose. I know one of my all-time fav epic fantasy series is Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, which is another case where a lot of people don't like the slow pace of the first book. Whereas I loved the richness and detail of Williams' depiction of regular life at the castle, and the very gradual way the wrongness creeps into the daily life of the protagonist. Without the contrast to the sleepy, ordinary life at the start of the book, the change in the kingdom would not feel half so terrible; and also, it's an excellent depiction of the "boiling a frog" syndrome--if changes come gradually enough, people won't resist the way they would if, say, an invading force suddenly took over the castle. Similarly, I think that without the gradual lowering of Lysaer & Arithon's defenses & the slow budding of respect/friendship between them in the "misty journey" section of Curse of the Mistwraith, again it wouldn't be half so tragic when everything goes to hell.

But! As you say, it's a lot easier to enjoy a gradual build in a book when it takes place over an hour of reading time instead of weeks. And I thought you wrote a very fair and balanced review. (Would that all book reviews were half so thorough and thoughtful!)

message 12: by Alissa (last edited Feb 14, 2016 03:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alissa Love To Ride Hell’s Chasm, it's my first Wurts book and now I am a huge fan of her prose and narrative style, though I admit it did take a few chapters to fell into the rhythm. After that, I couldn't get enough of her immersive storytelling and her imagination.

As Shadowdenizen pointed out, The Curse of the Mistwraith is both a standalone and the stepping stone for The Wars of Light and Shadow, which is a long and epic series. I personally loved the balance of action and worldbuilding, and the novelty of an enemy like the Mistwraith, but there is so much more into its menace and in those meddling Sorcerers, or into the conflict between the townborns and the clans. In the series at large, another characteristic I love is that, even in much later books, there are lots of details and scenes seamlessly built on the first book (I was surprised when I reread Curse, it was like savoring the book anew from my new perspective) and so on.
But of course I've long since learned how carefully planned the whole series is, and how each paragraph counts, even with all the richness of style, another deliberate choice. I've read almost all the books Wurts penned, including the Empire Trilogy, and she can shape very different stories indeed, with an unique vibrancy.

This said, I've also read and loved all of Mark's books (still have to read some of the short stories though) and Courtney's, I can see a link here....

message 13: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Courtney wrote: "I personally didn't mind the pace of Curse of the Mistwraith--or the prose, though that did take a bit of adjustment--but for anyone who might want to give Janny's work a try but prefers faster-pac..."

Yes, I highly recommend To Ride Hell’s Chasm as well as The Curse of the Mistwraith and all the other books in the series.

message 14: by Jon (last edited Mar 07, 2016 05:39AM) (new) - added it

Jon Thanks, Mark, for your 'honest' review. I'm a huge fan of Janny's work and have read and reread Curse multiple times because Janny doesn't hand-hold her readers like most modern authors do these days. Janny expects real intelligence, not artificial or superficial intelligence, from her audience. I would bet that if I picked up Curse of the Mistwraith and reread it I would find even more depths and layers that I missed the first three times I read it. And that's what I love about her writing. You cannot blink. You cannot skim. Every word is crucial. No other author challenges me as Janny does and I adore her for it.

But in this age of soundbites, social media and nanosecond attention spans, I can see where the masses would get lost and confused in the mists and completely miss the crucial linchpin of the series buried in plain site in Curse of the Mistwraith, as you obviously did.

message 15: by Mark (last edited Mar 13, 2016 02:48PM) (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Jon wrote: "Thanks, Mark, for your 'honest' review. I'm a huge fan of Janny's work and have read and reread Curse multiple times because Janny doesn't hand-hold her readers like most modern authors do these da..."

It's rather silly to insult people who simply have different tastes from you.

Is 'honest' in quotes because you think that I'm lying? :)

I wonder what you intuit my honest (no quotes) review would be...

message 16: by Jon (new) - added it

Jon Mark wrote: "Jon wrote: "Thanks, Mark, for your 'honest' review. I'm a huge fan of Janny's work and have read and reread Curse multiple times because Janny doesn't hand-hold her readers like most modern authors..."


It's also insulting to begin a review from a bathroom. Subtle ... not.

message 17: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Jon wrote: "Mark wrote: "Jon wrote: "Thanks, Mark, for your 'honest' review. I'm a huge fan of Janny's work and have read and reread Curse multiple times because Janny doesn't hand-hold her readers like most m..."

You're being an idiot. It's a simple statement of fact about the book's location. You're being wildly over-sensitive and have ended up looking stupid. I suspect Janny would agree.

message 18: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight Jon'mark even said he admired her writing style. He even admitted that his desire for a faster pace had more to do with him, and not a flaw in the writing .and as far as the bathroom thing all he said was that it happened to be on a shelf in the bathroom. Jon, I think you may be overreacting a bit because you love call janny's work.I think Mark gave a completely respectful critical review and even praised parts of it .it's just a difference of opinion, that does not mean he was not bright enough to understand the depth of her writing.

message 19: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight I meant to say "all" not call. Sorry for my typo

Samantha The Curse of the Mistwraith and subsequent books comprise what is probably my all time favorite series. Strangely, though I can see tons of stylistic similarities between Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series as someone above mentioned, I loathe that series (and everything else I've read by him). Janny's work feels rich and involved to me whereas Tad's just drags. Then it drags some more. Then it just continues to drag for two more books.

I can definitely see how both works probably fail to be most people's cup of tea.

Samantha Also, this is one series where unless you hated the book so much you want to set it on fire, I'd highly recommend reading The Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark ("I didn't really love the first book..." "Okay, but you should really read 1600 more pages!") because those two books are amazing, and Warhost contains done battle scenes that are very, very reminiscent of those in King of Thorns (which is to sayays they're damn good).

Alissa Warhost of Vastmark is one of my favorites, being a fan of military fantasy and all, I can't resist the pull of magic with logistics, strategies and tactics. I would also recommend to read at least the first three books straight. But I probably don't count, after all I read nine books straight...

message 23: by Cherop (new)

Cherop I'm not sure this is a book I would ever read but I really enjoyed your review of it!

message 24: by Nick T. (new) - added it

Nick T. Borrelli actually think that Janny Wurts is a thoughtful and amazing fantasy writer. There are tons of authors who would kill to have her talent. I'm enjoying Curse of the Mistwraith immensely and can't wait to read the rest of the series!

message 25: by Nick T. (new) - added it

Nick T. Borrelli Also, I agree with Jon that it is rather insulting to begin your review by feeling the need to say you had to blow the dust off the book because it sat in your bathroom unread for so long. I just think there's no reason to go there and is a bit below the belt. Especially coming from a fellow author. It's just not necessary and you're better than that Mark.

message 26: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Nick wrote: "Also, I agree with Jon that it is rather insulting to begin your review by feeling the need to say you had to blow the dust off the book because it sat in your bathroom unread for so long. I just t..."

And I repeat my unshaken belief that that is a wholly ridiculous thing to say on both your parts. I have no idea what is going on in your heads.

Redeagl Honestly people how is this insulting??

message 28: by Adam (new)

Adam Selby-martin People are being ridiculous. Mark said it was on a bathroom shelf - he didn't say he pulled it out of the cistern tank and read it after shouting at it loudly and cursing the authors name.

I have a copy of Prince of Fools on my bathroom windowsill to read - is that offensive to Mark?

message 29: by Petros (new)

Petros Triantafyllou *Slowly and carefully removes the books he has on his bathroom*

message 30: by Janis (new)

Janis I thought this was a well-written and informative review that gives potential readers things to consider if they want to read the book. I have often been 100 or so pages into a book and wondered if it was worth continuing on, or if I put it down, would I miss a great read that was just a bit slow at the start. Thanks for the thorough review, Mark!
As for the bathroom comment, I didn't even really notice the location. I was thinking about the fact that Mark has often mentioned in the past he had little time to read books due to his day job and caring for his daughter. Now he has taken this lengthy book, gifted or purchased years ago, and chosen it to dust off and finally read and review. I think I would take that as a compliment!

message 31: by Brian (new)

Brian Jon and Nick - get a life

message 32: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Clement I always enjoy your reviews, Mark, and in fact base a lot of what I plan to read next on what you've rated it, as it's been working out really well for me so far :) So, thanks!!

message 33: by Waylander (new)

Waylander Mark said it was in the bathroom on the shelf, not in the shithouse in a drawer with rolls of toilet paper waiting its turn to be used to wipe his arse. Get some perspective, Jon and Nick.

The review was informative and honest, thank you, Mark. Based on this review I will certainly be buying the first in the series because, as Mark says, it's all a matter of taste. I also find that my mood affects my choice of reading. Sometimes I need to bury myself in a huge series, such as The Wheel of Time, and other times I just want a quick read, in which case I pick up a David Gemmell. Totally different styles of storytelling, but both thoroughly enjoyable to me.

This review has piqued my interest in this series so I'm off to Amazon as Mark suggested.

Antony I think you rather missed the point of the townies vs the clans struggle and the book's underlying theme but maybe that comes out more in the sequels

message 35: by Kitvaria (new) - added it

Kitvaria Sarene I have to remove a thick dust layer from about 75% of my books? I have about 250 unread print books around - and they just get more each month. Don't see why I can't say that? It doesn't mean the book is not appreciated. Just means it has been waiting for attention a long while...
Have people always been so sensitive about anything, or has it been the internet the last decade?
Tastes differ - he even said his dislike was due to taste...

Anyway, great review Mark! I now know I won't ise this book as an introduction into her work, but rather one of the faster paced ones. I think if I went into this one unprepared, I would most likely not have finished it, and thought it was her "normal mode" of writing, so wouldn't have tried another one. (So many yet unread authors out there to try!)

message 36: by Levi (new) - added it

Levi Thanks for all the great book recommendations! Seeing the various books you review helps me decide which books I should think about reading soon.

message 37: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight Nick wrote: "Also, I agree with Jon that it is rather insulting to begin your review by feeling the need to say you had to blow the dust off the book because it sat in your bathroom unread for so long. I just t..."
Did you even bother to read his review?? He said he likes alot of the book but had some issues,he didn't say it sucks. Also the statement about it being in the bathroom wasn't about the quality of the book,just where it happened to be! Not sure how that could be misunderstood.

message 38: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark Lawrence Beartla wrote: "I remember reading the first book in this epic series and loving it. Also loved that you rescued the book from the bog. However several books in I stopped reading. Namely because it’s such a wait b..."

The tenth book in the series was released just last week. Only one more after that, I think.

Nickle Lsback This comment chain is pure mayhem, poor Mark only wanted to leave a well put together review. You would think that people who enjoy Janny Wurts' books, would appreciate him setting the stage a little before giving them an info dump.

Good reviewers are hard to come by, so you better not have poisoned Mark against leaving more quality reviews like this in the future. Else I'll be Furious >:(

message 40: by Justin (new) - added it

Justin  hight Nickle wrote: "This comment chain is pure mayhem, poor Mark only wanted to leave a well put together review. You would think that people who enjoy Janny Wurts' books, would appreciate him setting the stage a litt..."I agree!

message 41: by Len (new) - rated it 2 stars

Len Evans Jr Awesome Review!!!! You summed up how I felt about this book perfectly. It was a very well-written cup of tea... just not my cup of tea.

message 42: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil Wilson I have read this book many times - fun to see an initial perspective again - I agree with the review - if the book were a stand alone it would not have been written this way - the book starts a long story that spirals ands spirals changing your perspective and mistwraith is the launchpad and much on the page has more behind the scenes- one of my favourite series - but you need a long time to read it - I failed to get past book 4 of Game of thrones series since I was just too tired to carry on back to back...and never continued - with war of light and shadows I have followed it since would be a big read now - 10 books published and one to go. I loved prince of fools by the way but could not get into prince of thorns- red sister is sitting on my kindle (soon I think to be read ;-)

back to top