Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
PoV: Third-person, past-tense
BOOK ONE IN THE GROUNDBREAKING SERIES, THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW
A powerful, layered weaving of myth, prose and pure imagination – Curse of the Mistwraith opens an epic fantasy series perfect for fans of The Dark Tower and Earthsea.
Let each who reads determine the good and the evil for himselfAthera is besieged by the Mistwraith, which blights the land and dims the mysteries guarded by the last fugitives of the old bloodlines.But from a prophecy springs hope: the gifts of two brothers – one dark, one fair, raised on opposite sides of a relentless war – when paired may challenge the Mistwraith’s invasion, though at brutal cost…Arithon, Master of Shadow, musician and mage, commands the power of illusion and darkness. Taken prisoner in battle, his fate falls to his half-brother, Prince Lysaer – a man endowed with the gift of light through the mother they share. Lysaer is the legitimate son of a king who was betrayed by his queen’s choice to father Arithon by his mortal enemy but that does not save him:Vengeful fury drives the king to banish both Lysaer and Arithon from the world they know to the troubled realms of Athera beyond the Worldsend Gate.The two exiles are thrown together by hatred and spilled blood – then bound by destiny to champion Athera’s sundered heritage. The highest stakes ride the backlash of their conflict – they must reforge their adverse ideals into balance, or destroy the etheric grace of a culture all but lost to antiquity.A subtle and intricate tale of morality and difference, justice versus compassion, told with epic scope and real magic, Curse of the Mistwraith remains a modern classic of the fantasy genre.
~an awfully convenient fountain
~made-with-magic designer babies
~not sure how great your civilisation was if it was wrecked by fog
~oh yay, rampant fatphobia!
As someone who craves Epic Fantasy written by someone who is not a cishet white dude, obviously I had to try tackling The War of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts. There don’t seem to be many big sprawling Epic Fantasy series – ala Malazan or Wheel of Time – written by women, and this is definitely one of the more well-regarded ones. I went in hopeful, especially because I’ve previously enjoyed Wurts’ standalones (to say nothing of the trilogy she co-wrote with Raymond E Feist, the only work of his I’ve ever found interesting).
Now I’ve finished Curse, though, I can say that I’m thoroughly unimpressed.
Stripped of all the verbose grandiloquence of the prose, the plot is very straightforward: two princes, half-brothers raised as deadly enemies, find themselves tossed into another world, where their respective powers over light and shadow have been prophesised as the means of defeating a strange mist-monster which has hidden the sun for centuries. Instantly taken under the wing of the Fellowship of wizards, who want to see them restored to their ancestral thrones on this world, the princes destroy the monster, which uses its final moments to curse them with an all-consuming hatred for each other. Ugly, vicious battle ensues, which accomplishes nothing but awful butchery until one prince flees the other.
I struggled with the writing at first: Wurts’ prose is ornate and strange, instantly recognisable as her own signature style, but often so convoluted that I had to reread sentences (sometimes entire paragraphs) multiple times in order to understand what exactly Wurts was trying to tell me. That being said, once my brain shifted gears and clicked with the style, it became weirdly readable, sweeping me along a truly ridiculous number of pages without my noticing!
Unfortunately, even once I adjusted to the writing, the story really couldn’t hold me. There was a truly appalling amount of telling-not-showing, often through extremely pretentious, preachy dialogue; dozens and dozens of side-quests that meant nothing and had no bearing on…anything, really; and characters that were defined by one or two major traits that really could not justify the amount of introspective maudlin-ing they subject the reader to.
And fundamentally…we know, from the prologue, that Something is going to happen that will cause these two princes, half-brothers, to go to war with each other; we later glimpse prophecy that confirms it. But after all that build-up…? They’re simply cursed to hate each other. That’s it. There is no actual conflict, no huge big Thing that draws a line between them; they hate each other Just Because.
How is that not the laziest possible option? A magical war that’s going to last millennia, and it’s fuelled by a hate that’s not actually based on anything? Come on.
And there’s quite a lot baked into the worldbuilding/story that’s just…majorly unpleasant and completely gratuitous. For example, my first red flag came around the 18% mark, when one of the main characters is briefly accused/suspected of being gay, and that is conflated with pedophilia.
Look: this is Secondary World Fantasy. That means it’s set in a world with no connection to ours – which has no reason to share the prejudices of our world. There’s no reason or need to write homophobia into your fantasy world, so why the hell would you? Why would decide ‘ah yes, I can do anything I want with this world…and what I want is to make it homophobic’?
Thanks for fucking nothing.
It’s all men all the time: we glimpse a few minor female characters with varying kinds of prestige, but the main cast is made up wholly of men. The Fellowship of wise, nearly all-powerful, omnibenevolent wizards are all men, and the order of all-women magic-users are infinitely less powerful, more petty and more venal, not even registering as a thorn in the side of our main characters. Yay. Love that for us. Oh, and then there’s the absolutely horrific mass-rape-and-murder scene towards the end of the book that was so completely unnecessary that I cannot even.
(Did I mention that Lysander, our Prince of Light, is cast as a hero in that scene because he atom-bombs the victims rather than allowing the rapes to continue? HI, THAT IS NOT NEARLY THE HEROIC STANCE YOU SEEM TO THINK IT IS. How about, oh, I don’t know, NOT LETTING IT HAPPEN TO BEGIN WITH? I mean, what the everloving fuck???)
And let’s not forget Dakar, the bumbling alcoholic idiot who isn’t a fraction as funny as Wurts seems to think he is, whose fatness is the butt of every gods-damn joke and judgement.
How about no?
So is it worth reading? Not on its own merits – overly flowery (but not, imo, beautiful) prose makes Curse of the Mistwraith at least twice as long as it needs to be, and ultimately this series opener is a dud. But between an overarching plotline I desperately want to see manifest, and the promises of other readers, it does seem like the series might get better and more interesting later on. Which means it may be worth pushing through, if only to reach the sequels.
(Unicorns. I have been promised unicorns later in this series!)
Will I continue? I don’t know. Probably not, but if I change my mind, I promise to review any sequels I manage to get through.