Stormed Fortressis the eighth novel in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW series by Janny Wurts, and the fifth and final novel in the Alliance of Light sub-arc. I’ve reviewed every novel in the series so far, and all of those reviews have been extremely positive, so by now it’s probably no secret that I’m a huge fan of these books and their author. That being said, Stormed Fortress is an outstanding novel even by the incredibly high standards of this series.
The conflict between the half-brothers Lysaer and Arithon continues unabated. The fortress mentioned in the book’s title is Alestron, home of the s’Brydion family which has played such a large and complex role in the conflict between Lysaer, the false avatar of the Light, and Arithon, the Master of Shadow. Lysaer leads the forces of his Alliance of Light to the s’Brydions’ doorstep, and through no fault of his own Arithon is drawn there too, which sets up the confrontation between the two half-brothers that’s been brewing throughout this arc.
Plot threads that were introduced four books ago at the start of the Alliance of Light arc come to fruition in Stormed Fortress. All the setup that took place in the earlier books pays off here, from Arithon’s involuntary doppelganger Fionn Areth to Lysaer’s complex and fascinating henchman Sulfin Evend. The Koriathain continue to plot, with Arithon’s love interest Elaira caught in the middle, and the Fellowship of Seven balances its long-term duties and goals with the immediate danger posed to the key players in this story.
As you’d expect from the title, a siege plays an important part in the plot of Stormed Fortress. And as people who are familiar with Janny Wurts would probably expect, the author describes this siege in a way that’s second to none. Just like the previous book in the series contained a description of a necromantic ritual that simply blew every other instance of necromancy in fantasy out of the water in terms of depth and attention to detail, what we get in Stormed Fortress is almost the platonic ideal of the description of a siege. The tension is practically unbearable, not in the least because the author manages to maintain it for hundreds of pages and describes it from various points of view, from the common soldier on up:
“Let us do what we can for your people.” Hard-set, dedicated to practical mercy, Talvish shouldered his captaincy. He was no sorcerer, no musician, no blood-born seer stung by the vista of far-sighted consequence. He accepted that he had naught else to give but the conviction of human resolve.
The amazing thing about this series is that it’s incredibly complex, but in a completely different way than you’d expect based on its size. Writing even a basic summary of the state of affairs at the end of this eighth novel would take up several pages. Janny Wurts achieves this level of complexity with a relatively small cast of characters, as opposed to series like Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, which features huge numbers of characters and races. With Janny Wurts, the complexity lies instead in the web of motivations that drives each of her characters, both as individuals and as part of whatever group or faction they belong to. Before I started reading this series, I was told that “it doesn’t sprawl, it deepens” — and now, after having read everything but the newest novel Initiate’s Trial, I understand completely what was meant by this: the story that’s being told here is essentially the same as the one we started out with at the beginning of The Curse of the Mistwraith, but throughout the series the author continues to reveal additional layers, reposition the markers, and explore the characters’ relationships and Athera’s deepest mysteries in ever-increasing depth. It’s no wonder that this is one of those series people end up reading and re-reading over and over.
I’m starting to get to the point where I will buy extra copies of The Curse of the Mistwraith, the first book in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, to hand out to fantasy fans who haven’t discovered the series yet. It’s simply incomprehensible to me that more people aren’t reading these books. The entire series is back in print in the U.S., and the latest book in the series, Initiate’s Trial, is coming out today, so if you are looking for an intellectually challenging but incredibly rewarding fantasy series to read, this is a great time to get started.
Stormed Fortress is book 5 in the second arc of The Wars of Light and Shadow.
For long time fans of Wurts this represents a significant closure of many different facets of a series that has been many years in the crafting. This is not a starting point in the series despite a good summation of the previous books at the beginning.
Wurts has been developing a running conflict between the two half-brothers Arithon and Lysaer which has been exacerbated by a magical curse to ensure their enmity and that their cooperation doesn’t allow for a complete solution to much of the world’s problems. The conflict finds a significant culmination as allies of Arithon are exposed for the role they have played in undermining Lysaer’s interests. The results of this major engagement and the events leading up to it are the meat of the story.
The more important undercurrent of Stormed Fortress is a continuation of Wurts’ discussion of how faults and character weaknesses can be exploited. This has been an on-going issue throughout the story, but it rises as a major subplot when characters are repeatedly twisted into actions and situations not of their choosing because of their own flaws. This leads to some really interesting examination of how our purest motivations can be twisted entirely out of the scope of our intent.
Stormed Fortress represents a very acceptable resting place in the story, but it is far from the end. If you have enjoyed The Wars of Light and Shadow thus far, then that’s not a bad thing. Many important seemingly underdeveloped storylines are brought to a successful conclusion and there are also sweeping changes affected on many of the steady supporting characters. Some of this is sad, but other changes, and the comeuppance that certain factions endure, are gloriously satisfying.
What I enjoyed most in the story has been the evolution of Sulfin Evend. A central figure to the forces of the opposition to the protagonist, his evolution from blinded fanatic to enlightened, knowing catalyst in support of the good in his twisted master, has been very well done. This is not a simple wave of the wand from bad guy to good guy, but a knowing, painful transition between ignorance and knowledge. Great stuff.
The writing is very vocabulary intensive. Don’t expect weak descriptive terms that are used over and over again. Ms. Wurts doesn’t skimp in trying to give description to experience and events that would normally defy the attempt. How do you describe the breath-taking harmony of a musically based magical event that affects an entire battlefield? Well, she does.
Stormed Fortress has been worth the wait and seeds a happy anticipation of what is still to come.
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.)