The Curse of the Mistwraith took me completely by surprise. Based on (obviously mistaken) assumptions, I expected something completely different — epic fantasy, yes, but nothing even close to the gorgeous prose and astounding depth I found in this novel.
The plot of this story is hard to summarize, partly because there are so many twists and turns that it’s almost impossible not to run into spoiler territory very quickly. Two half-brothers, Arithon and Lysaer, are on opposite sides of a conflict that spans generations. As they become involved in the struggle against the Mistwraith that keeps the world of Athera in a stranglehold, the reader quickly realizes that the half-brothers’ conflict doesn’t just go back generations, but literally ages.
The Curse of the Mistwraith is old-fashioned, in a good way: 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.
There aren’t many wasted words in this book. I can’t remember the last time I had to go back and re-read sections so many times, both from a genuine desire not to miss too many details, and for the sheer pleasure of taking in the richness of the prose again.
Best of all, this is only book one of a longer series, some of which is still in the process of being written. The Curse of the Mistwraith is (thankfully) a solid story on its own, not to say several stories — but at least it has a beginning, an end and no cliffhangers. At the same time, it sows a great many seeds and gives a lot of hints, some more oblique than others, about what will happen in the future. You’ll be satisfied by the ending, but at the same time, you’ll want more.
The one thing that had me balancing between giving it four stars or five is that, for a long time, I found it hard to connect with the majority of the characters. There are very few ordinary people in this book, not much light dialogue or humor, and early on it was hard for me to think of the characters as actual people. Especially the early part of the book consists of several tableaux in which everyone and everything is larger than life. However, as you read on, you discover that what initially seemed a weakness has a very solid motivation… and as you get into the last 100 or so pages of The Curse of the Mistwraith, the characters will have become very real and understandable. I had to wait a day or so to let the ending of this story sink in before attempting to write about it.
I don’t want to hammer home the “old-fashioned” word (which, again, is meant in a very good way here), but I found myself imagining a different fantasy genre… one in which most of the last 30 years hadn’t happened. When hearing the word “fantasy,” people wouldn’t immediately think Harry Potter or sexy vampires or 12 book series that never end. In such a world, you can probably still find an innocent reader, brand new to the genre, who just finished reading The Lord of the Rings and is now eagerly looking for something that has similar depth and elegance. If I were to make a reading list for such a hypothetical reader, The Curse of the Mistwraith would definitely be included.
The Mistwraith has blanketed the world in dank fog for five centuries. But those who believe the Mad Prophet’s words keep faith that a descendant of the long ago banished high kings will come from another world to defeat it. Arithon, the son of a pirate-king, has been trained to be a Master of Shadows but his hearts desire is to be a bard. Crown-prince Lysaer has been denied the teaching needed to skillfully wield his powers of light, but is schooled in way of politics and leadership. Despite having the same mother, these princes have been raised as enemies and their personal passions may plunge the very world which is their destiny to save into even deadlier conflicts.
The Curse of the Mistwraith sets the stage for The WarS of Light and Shadow series which is finally being re-released in North America. This is the most unique storyline I’ve ever read that falls within the realm of traditional high fantasy. (In fact, it’s so good that it’s made it tougher for other books to get five stars from me.)
Janny Wurts is also a famous fantasy artist and 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. This world and story is so life-like, that it easily felt like I was really there. The system of magic is very detailed and believable, but still inspires that sense of wonder. The characters are so endearing that their tragedies are truly heart-wrenching and their triumphs heart-warming.
Consider yourself warned; this series requires more commitment than the usual big epics, but its well-worth it and then some. I’m chomping at the bit to start the next book, Ships of Merior, and I know I’ll fondly miss this world and these people when it’s over. Fantasy doesn’t get any more captivating than this, which is a good thing because if it did, I might not be able to bring myself back to reality!
It doesn’t get any better than THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW!
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.)