The White Road by Lynn Flewelling
After a long departure from the much loved Nightrunner series, Lynn Flewelling returned to Seregil and Alec’s adventures in 2008 with the release of Shadows Return. Now the adventure begun in Shadows Return continues in The White Road:
“Having escaped death and slavery in Plenimar, Alec and Seregil want nothing more than to go back to their nightrunning life in Rhíminee. Instead they find themselves saddled with Sebrahn, a strange, alchemically created creature — the prophesied “child of no woman.” Its moon-white skin and frightening powers make Sebrahn a danger to all whom Alec and Seregil come into contact with, leaving them no choice but to learn more about Sebrahn’s true nature.
With the help of trusted friends and Seregil’s clan, the duo set out to discover the truth about this living homunculus — a journey that can lead only to danger or death. For Seregil’s old nemesis Ulan í Sathil of Virèsse and Alec’s own long-lost kin are after them, intent on possessing both Alec and Sebrahn. On the run and hunted, Alec and his comrades must fight against time to accomplish their most personal mission ever.”
This may well be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever had to write. I’ve been reading Lynn Flewelling’s work for the past ten years, after all.
The White Road isn’t completely devoid of the things that made the first Nightrunner books so compelling. Though not quite as intriguing as they originally were, Alec and Seregil bounce back from their lack of dimensionality in Shadows Return, reminding me a lot more of the characters I loved. In particular, I found Alec’s relationship to Sebrahn interesting. He has to deal with the mixed emotions that come of suddenly having a child (um, sort of), and both wanting to keep him and being frustrated with the limitations this puts on his lifestyle. As well, there’s the question of whether it’s even wise or safe to keep Sebrahn; after all, Sebrahn’s powers make him a potentially dangerous weapon. Or a liability.
While I’m not sure how I feel about having the “keep the child, don’t keep the child” question brought up in my fantasy literature, it’s still very well written, with neither too much angst nor too little expression.
Micum is, as ever, awesome, because he’s one of those characters who’s incapable of being anything else. I was a little disappointed that Thero wasn’t in more of the book, though. He is hands down Flewelling’s best example of character development and has become just as awesome as Micum.
One of my favorite things about Lynn Flewelling is that she has a sense of humor. And unlike many authors, even when she’s dealing in dark subjects she uses her sense of humor. There are always moments in her books that make me laugh or smile, and I can’t say that about too many fantasy authors (or authors in general) these days. Not surprisingly, The White Road isn’t an exception to that rule.
But… did I mention I hate having to do this? Unfortunately, no matter how much I might love Ms. Flewelling, I’m afraid I don’t love The White Road. Did the blurb sound a little thin to you? That’s because the plot is extremely thin. It consists of a lot of talking, a couple of action scenes, the tiniest bit of (not very interesting) nightrunning, and um… well, that’s about it. One thing that always impressed me about Flewelling was her ability to make me feel patriotism for her made-up country of Skala. I was drawn into the books because even though they centered on only a few people, they involved the whole of Skala. The characters worked for the purpose of protecting Skala. Without that motivation, there ends up being very little for them to actually do. I need more adventure, more nightrunning, more intrigue, more… just more.
Aside from a thin plot, the villains — if you can call them that — are unconvincing. Ulan i Sathil, for example? He’s a dying man who spends a great deal of his time garnering trade for his province (?) and ransoming slaves from the Plenimarans. While I like my heroes to be more gray than black (and Flewelling is usually excellent at that), Ulan is a little too sympathetic. Sure, he uses Ilar, whom I’m afraid I don’t find very interesting. But he still protects the man, comforts him, and gives him safety. I’m not exactly shaking in my boots here. And then there’s the Retha’noi witch…
Okay, here’s where we come to another problem I had with The White Road. It seems like Flewelling has gotten it in her head that all the ideas she’s come up with in previous books must appear in new ones. That saddens me. The Retha’noi are a fascinating folk, but I’m not sure they belong in these books now. Aside from the fact that they feel a little tacked on, I’m not convinced it makes sense. We’re talking about a people that was disliked, hunted, and dwindling five hundred years ago. I’m not even sure they should still be around. And Tamir’s Road? Yeah, it would either be a major thoroughfare or completely and utterly lost to time by now. Not “Oh, BTW guys, there’s this road you can take…”
In fact, there’s some plausibility issues all the way around. For example, the dragon. Oh my. Even allowing for the fact that this is a fantasy book, that dragon is much too big. It has a neck as long as a street. That’s just not possible. And it’s extremely hard to pin down how long ago the Hazadrielfae left Aurenen, particularly when one of them owns a map so impossibly old, it shows Skala and Plenimar as islands.
I’ve been noticing for some time a drop in the quality of Flewelling’s prose, but unlike with most authors it’s not very debilitating. I might wish it were still as good as it used to be, but the feeling isn’t completely gone, and that’s usually what I notice more than the words themselves. That’s a plus, because it means the prose is still easy and pleasant to read. However, there were a few choices this time around that boggled me. Some were just too suggestive, even in context. Others were awkward or even juvenile.
Finally… why is magic thrown around so much now? Remember the good old days, when Seregil used a bit of makeup, clothing, and body language to convincingly transform himself into a totally different person? Remember how clever and intriguing he was back then? Remember how awesome it was to watch him and other nightrunners work? Now Thero waves a hand and poof instant disguise. I miss what Lynn Flewelling used to do with things like disguise and intrigue so much. She’s so good at it, I just don’t understand why she’s taking a completely different tack now.
It’s starting to seem like Flewelling and I can’t really meet each other’s needs on an author-to-reader basis. She needs me to love her world and her characters as much as she does, but I don’t. I wish I could, but I’m simply not that kind of reader. I need her to give me more of what made me love these books to begin with if I’m going to stay invested in them. Yeah, I know, change is good — but you know what? Endings are changes too.
The end of The White Road implies that nightrunning antics are supposed to be in our future. I hope so. With almost any other author I would just call it quits. Lynn Flewelling has been a major influence on me as both a reader and a writer for ten years, however, which means I’m not quite ready to give up yet. I can count on one hand the amount of authors I feel that way about.
Nightrunner — (1996-2013) Publisher: When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be… Luck in the Shadows.
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