The Ships of Merior is the first part of Arc 2 of THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, the incomparable epic fantasy series by Janny Wurts. The novel was originally released in 1994, and has most recently been re-released by HarperCollins Voyager in a lovely mass market paperback edition, featuring brand new artwork by the author herself. This is the first US paperback edition of the novel in at least 7 years. Further novels in the series will be re-released in late 2009 and throughout 2010, in anticipation of the next novel in the series, Initiate’s Trial, in late 2010.
If it’s been a while since you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll find the important events of that novel recapped early in the novel, not in the form of a summary but rather as an integral part of the story, usually seen from a different perspective or recounted by another person. In this way, Janny Wurts refreshes her readers’ memories while deepening their understanding of this many-layered story. At the same time, there are plenty of surprises in store, including some information about the Fellowship’s origin that dizzyingly changes the entire perspective of the series, and some (in comparison minor) twists and shocks that are sure to make you blink.
If you enjoyed The Curse of the Mistwraith, there’s simply no reason or excuse not to read The Ships of Merior. The novel features all of the many strengths of its predecessor: meticulous plotting, strong characters, attention to the smallest details of world-building, and most notably Janny Wurts‘ gorgeous prose. Simply put, I can’t think of many fantasy authors who can rival the richness and subtlety of language that Janny Wurts deploys in her novels.
One contrast with The Curse of the Mistwraith is the amount of humor in The Ships of Merior. While the earlier book had just a few glimpses of lightheartedness, The Ships of Merior displays this side of the author more often, especially when recounting the exploits of the mad prophet Dakar early in the novel. The grimmer tone of the second half of the book is probably at least in part due to the fact that Dakar spends much of it drunk to the point of unconsciousness.
The Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark, the second book in this Arc of THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, were originally envisioned (and published) as one very large novel, but have been split into two titles in many editions. Fortunately, one of Janny Wurts‘ hallmarks is a midpoint climax, halfway through each novel — which in this case has the happy result of creating an unforgettable ending in the last chapters of The Ships of Merior (which were originally the middle chapters of the complete Arc 2). The book ends on an unmitigated nail-biter that left me unable to stop reading until the very end, and eager to get into Warhost of Vastmark as soon as possible.
Janny Wurts amazes me.
The Ships of Merior flawlessly continues The Wars of Light and Shadow saga. Arithon, the Master of Shadow, is on the run, which is fine by him because his perfect cover is also his heart’s desire: working as apprentice to the master-bard Halliron. Lysaer has been far from idle during Arithon’s absence. He carries on his plans to become appointed high king, courts Talera, begins the rebuilding of the ruins of Avenor, and wins over the townships to his cause of hunting down Arithon. Meanwhile, the Fellowship of Seven dangerously pursue the means to defeat the Mistwraith once and for all and to lift the curse that has Arithon and Lysaer at each others’ throats, threatening to plunge Athera into bloody war.
If there is anyone who can write more beautifully than Janny Wurts, I haven’t run across ‘em yet. Her characters are so genuine and her worlds are so life-like, it seems as if she isn’t making up these stories, but translating them onto paper as the characters relate them.
What makes Ms. Wurts’s stories so “real” is her extensive knowledge regarding everything she writes about. In The Ships of Merior, she describes music in such a way that the reader can’t help but realize that there truly is something magical about it. Her descriptions of shipbuilding recognize that it’s an art form as well as a practical skill. Wurts’s biography states that she’s a musician and an offshore sailor, among several other remarkable achievements. What it doesn’t say is that she’s apparently a military strategist as well! The clans’ guerrilla tactics and the campaign of Lysaer’s war-host reveal the wisdom of a seasoned general.
The more books by Janny Wurts I read, the more I’m impressed by her genius.