Fugitive Prince by Janny Wurts
Fugitive Prince is the fourth novel in THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by Janny Wurts, but because of the series’ unique structure, it’s actually the start of a brand new “arc” inside the overall story: book 1 comprises the first arc, books 2 and 3 together are the second arc, and the third arc consists of books 4 through 8 (the first of which is Fugitive Prince). Looking forward, the forthcoming 9th novel, Initiate’s Trial, will be the first of 2 books in the 4th arc, and the 11th and final novel will also be the final arc.
If you’re keeping track, all of this means that the series’ 5 arcs have a nicely symmetrical 1-2-5-2-1 structure, and also that, just in case you’re not familiar with this truly excellent series yet, you still have the amazing opportunity to read the first 3 arcs, which are recently all in print again, before Janny Wurts‘ next novel hits the shelves.
Just one of the wonderful aspects of THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW (which, in case you hadn’t noticed yet, has garnered unanimous rave reviews here at Fantasy Literature) is that Janny Wurts always makes it easy to get back into the story, even if it’s been a while since you’ve read the last novel. She does this by recapping the events from previous novels, not in a “The story so far” section at the front of the book, but much more elegantly, by including those events into the narrative, often from a different perspective, so your understanding of the series deepens at the same time. (However, if your memory is as bad as mine, and you prefer a more traditional chronological recap, this can be found in a later novel, and there’s also a book by book time line available on the author’s excellent website).
Fugitive Prince picks up close to the end of Warhost of Vastmark, and for fear of spoiling even the slightest bit of enjoyment for new readers, this review won’t cover much in the way of plot summary. Suffice it to say that the conflict between the the half-brothers Arithon and Lysaer continues unabated. The “Alliance of Light” mentioned in the title of this third arc refers to Lysaer’s coalition of mostly townborn loyalists, built around a religion and a true cult of personality centered on him, with the goal of ridding the world of Athera of both his half-brother and the last remnants of the clan-born.
Many familiar characters from earlier novels return, and several new and fascinating ones are introduced. This being the start of a new arc, the plot logically includes a bit more set-up than the previous 3 novels did, making the first half of this novel probably the weakest section of the series so far — which isn’t saying much, as it still sticks head and shoulders above almost everything else in the genre. However, in the style I’ve more or less come to expect by now, the midway point of the novel presents a tipping point, leading to a truly excellent, hard-to-put-down second half and an exciting finale that will leave you eager to get to the next book in the series.
Janny Wurts also continues to reveal secrets and layers in THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW‘s improbably complex fantasy universe, this time maybe not of the truly mind-bending kind (although, that grimward scene…) but still enough to keep you on your toes — especially some casually mentioned tidbits about the Koriani enchantresses that’ll add a whole new perspective to your understanding of this series. Every book in THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW will have you reconsider the previous ones in an entirely new light.
One aspect of Fugitive Prince — and the entire series — that bears emphasizing is its unique descriptions of magic. In fantasy, magic is sometimes portrayed as an almost scientifically rational process complete with systems and charts (a la Brandon Sanderson), or, at the other extreme of the scale, as unexplained and vaguely described hand-waving. To be fair, Arithon’s powers sometimes lean towards the second of those options, but in Fugitive Prince you’ll find a description of an elaborate spell construct by Morriel Prime that hits the perfect middle ground between the two: it’s so carefully described and (for want of a better word) rational that you can practically see it in front of you, but at the same time it manages to keep the true mystery and wonder of its nature. It’s simply one of the most memorable descriptions of magic I’ve ever encountered in fantasy. Then again, Janny Wurts‘ prose almost constantly hits that same level, with some of the most carefully worded and nuanced writing you’ll find in the genre. While her style can be demanding on the reader, it’s equally rewarding if you’re willing to adjust to a level of detail and depth that’s unparalleled in fantasy.
Fugitive Prince is another excellent installment in one of the best fantasy series out there. If you’re not on board yet, seriously — go find a copy of The Curse of the Mistwraith now!
At book 4, The Wars of Light and Shadow is still going strong.
In Fugitive Prince, we learn just how overwhelming the Mistwraith’s curse is for the half-brothers. Years have passed, and to Lysear’s great disappointment, Arithon is still at large without a trace. With the absence of the Prince of Shadow, Lysear’s desperation intensifies to the point of justifying deplorable acts. Arithon’s strategies are ingenious, but may not prove to be quite clever enough to stay ahead of Lysear’s new alliance with the Korianni. And as if Lysear’s growing obsession to destroy Arithon was not bad enough, the meddling of the Korianni enchantresses makes the Fellowship of Sorcerers’ struggle to return the Paravians to order seem hopeless.
Fugitive Prince is the fourth door-stopper in The Wars of Light and Shadow epic — a huge, complex story with a fascinating magic system. I can think of only a handful of authors who have the skill to maintain this kind of story — let alone keep it moving forward — so for most epics, this is where I usually begin to lose interest. But Wurts is not only managing to keep me hooked — she actually kicks things up a notch in Fugitive Prince.
Most importantly, though, the characters remain the driving force behind the tale without the reader getting overwhelmed with an endless number of forgettable names. There is a constant emotional connection with the characters and the story has a feeling of “realness” that is so difficult to attain in a traditional fantasy epic.
The Wars of Light and Shadow — (1993-2017) Booklist: For more than 500 years the Mistwraith has darkened the world of Athera. Where once were fields, flowers, and unicorns, there now are bareness, poverty, and desperation. The curse can be lifted only by the combined powers of two half-brothers who have been raised apart as enemies. Blond Lysaer, who grew up in the castle, is a born diplomat with a strong sense of justice and latent powers of light. Dark-haired Arithon, called the Master of Shadows, is skilled in music and magic and possesses an overwhelming empathy for all living things. When the two are thrown together in exile, an uneasy bond begins to form between them, and under the guidance of the Fellowship of Sorcerers, they work toward lifting the bane. But the Mistwraith fights back by twisting their talents and turning them against each other, plunging the kingdom into a bloody conflict. Read an excerpt of The Curse of the Mistwraith here. Listen to excerpts here. (Excerpts of other WoLaS books also available.)