Janny Wurts has become a favorite of several of the reviewers here at Fantasy Literature, and much to our delight, her epic series, THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW (“TWoLaS”) is back in print this year in America and Canada! With its return to North America, one of the most important fantasy series currently underway is once again available to readers of epic high fantasy the world over.
One of the great strengths of Wurts’ writing is that it is not mere escapism. Fantasy Literature reviewer Stefan Raets notes that “rather than the standard cotton-candy fantasy tomes you find nowadays, here’s a book that requires 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.”
When asked about the similarities and the differences between TWoLaS and other big high fantasy epics like those of Steven Erikson, Robert Jordan, and George R.R. Martin, Ms. Wurts says “I admire all three of these writers for their spectacular gift of originality… We are all telling stories born of the imagination, to enrich the lives we touch with something ephemeral that lies just over the horizon of our known perceptions. My work differs because the characters change, the list of players won’t run into the thousands by book eight, but your awareness of the ones that come and go deepens, heightens, and evolves. They won’t be the same person they were in Volume I. I depart from the rest in that the god presence, and the wise with the powers of gods, are far too advanced to stoop to brawling violence, and the dark, gritty horrors and atrocities will be followed up by scenes balanced out in the light, the sublime, and the joyfully expansive. Some things will shine in dark places, and other things dark will emerge where the dazzle is stripped by startlement…”
TWoLaS has strong moral themes about personal responsibility and how someone’s perspective can easily be warped to destructive effect. After I mentioned to her that I noticed a striking parallel between George W. Bush’s War on Terror and some of the events in THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW Arc III: The Alliance of Light (which was written before Mr. Bush became president), Ms. Wurts refused to moralize over political issues. But she did suggest that “at any point, where doubt is absent, issues become carved into black and white. Those who embrace the “black” and the “white” without question become the ideological tools, to be used by whoever comes along and pushes the button of such blinded rhetoric. I wrote to illuminate and astonish, to open doorways and challenge our most rigid mythscapes. Story is as old as time, but our times require renewed perspectives. This is a story to dismantle stereotypes and replace ideology with understanding.”
Janny Wurts has mastered the ability to keep her readers guessing, despite their intimate knowledge of her characters. Fantasy Literature reviewer Kat Hooper writes about the one-shot novel To Ride Hell’s Chasm: “there were a few times that I thought ‘how are they going to get out of this mess?’ and I had no clue, and even if I’d had a clue, I would have been wrong.”
I asked how Wurts keeps her plot and characters fresh, and she explains “If you keep on breaking the glass box of what’s known, you get all sorts of angles to imagine from … Story characters stay creative because I allow them to breathe and change. They aren’t going to please me – they are going to be ornery, wayward and filled with astonishments. I keep them growing because I don’t ever put them in the same scenario twice, and if they encounter a repeat of past circumstances, they will display learning from the earlier experience. I don’t let them become cut-outs by rote, or static, or fixed. And that’s the delight – they have to surprise ME, or the scene is not worth examining. I may know where the story will lead. I let inspiration choose the unbeaten paths to get there.”
Long time Wurts fan and Fantasy Literature reviewer John Hulet feels that THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW “is probably the most poetic epic fantasy series out there. Janny’s use of the English language is so eloquent that it becomes almost like reading another language. One must acquire an ear for how she tells the story. Her pallet of adjectives and description is the result of her artistic spirit and opens up levels of nuance and image depiction that are truly unique in this genre.”
It is that unique style for which Wurts is known. She herself mentions that “people often observe they adjust to my style, given about five chapters to settle in. The effect isn’t just becoming accustomed. It’s about shifting the way the synapses fire, about altering how the brain thinks. Fight it, or hate it – the books were not written for the timid of heart, or anyone afraid to step beyond the boundaries of the familiar.” Hooper experienced this when she read To Ride Hell’s Chasm: “At first I thought that as the pace of the story got faster, Ms Wurts’ writing had become more succinct. But I went back and read some of the first half again to check my theory: No. It hadn’t changed — it was me … Ms. Wurts is an artist … she uses words like she uses her paint.”
Her use of words as paint has also been noted by Greg Hersom, another Fantasy Literature reviewer, who observed that “it’s as if she uses those same artistic instincts for light and color to create these awe-inspiring tales. She combines vibrant words with a unique prose that paints a story as much as tells a tale. Her writing has a spellbinding elegance that works perfectly for a fantasy story.”
Janny Wurts is known for employing a massive vocabulary. She has responded to the question “Why do I write the way I do,” in detail before, and relates that “I’ve read so many books that words and vocabulary became absorbed, as it were, through the skin, any one word is not the same as another. Each has a precise and different shade of meaning, and to me, that makes a difference. I prefer choosing the exact one for the occasion… There are other reasons. I am not just writing to entertain, but to provoke creative thought. I strive to stretch the envelope between what is known, and reach into the imagination – to bring the reader an experience more vivid than simply words on the page. It is fact, that if the thought process is slowed down, the impact is heightened. When all of the senses are engaged, imaginatively, both hemispheres of the brain come into synchronization. The result lends the story a sharper edge, and fine-tunes the emotional response. The result, I can hope, is a story that is made richer and more provocative. But the brand is my own, vibrantly distinct, and not dumbed down for the non-virtue of middling conformity. The result will spark passion, for or against. It won’t be bland, or tame, or attempt to please everyone.”
Hulet notes that “great fantasy, like THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW and (Steven Erikson’s) THE MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLENis not easy reading, but it is satisfying in a way that simple fare can never be.
THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW currently stands at eight volumes: The Curse of the Mistwraith, The Ships of Merior, Warhost of Vastmark, Fugitive Prince, Grand Conspiracy, Peril’s Gate, Traitor’s Knot, and Stormed Fortress. HarperCollins is releasing these books, together with the one-shot novel To Ride Hell’s Chasm, in succession throughout 2009 and early 2010 in anticipation of a Fall 2010 release of the next book in the saga, Initiate’s Trial. Wurts reports that “I’ve got the Initiate’s Trial drafted up to the closing sequence of action…Once I get the story down, it takes me about 3-4 months working very hard to pare down to the final copy and finish the language. Since this book is the start of an arc, it’s critical to get it off right, because everything after will rest on this foundation … With only three total volumes to go, to complete the series, entire, the finish is within sight. The intent is to keep up the momentum, toward that explosive and building conclusion.”
Wurts promises to keep surprising us, saying “you thought you knew all there was to discern, from all the past volumes’ unfoldments. There will be a few explosive moments to come that will move all the markers. I can warn you that everything mentioned, before, will come back dimensionally larger. You will get dizzy, with views from new heights, and a breadth of connection in plain sight all along, once you’ve had the veil of your own preconceptions torn through (yet again, I might add.) It’s exciting!”
ANGUS BICKERTON practises law in a small town in Eastern Ontario. He lives with his wife, their two youngest children, and their black lab in a 160 year-old stone home, which also holds his law office. He has become, through inadvertence bordering on negligence, an expert in money-pit properties, and in do-it-yourself repair and construction. He has always dreamed of writing novels, but so far he has only self-published a play about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ entitled The Gate.
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