Janny Wurts’s latest novel in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, Initiate’s Trial, is another rock-solid installment in what has become one of my favorite series. Janny’s use of the English language, her ability to sculpt characters with concepts and characteristics that make them live and her continuing commitment to solid storytelling make her work some of the best ever. Initiate’s Trial is a perfect example of why her books are always worth the wait.
As often happens in a series, there are elements of the plot that have happened in between books. In this case, Arithon has been placed under the custody of the Koriathian Sisterhood, loathsome spiders, to continue the process of freeing Athera from the lasting threat of the Mistwraith. Janny does a superlative job of not just describing the process that it takes to do this, but also how the lingering effects of his complete loss of memory enable him to develop his skills in other ways. It’s like the way that a person deprived of a primary sense, like sight, will often find that their other senses become sharper as their use is increased to compensate. Beautiful, lyrical descriptive efforts, such as the way Wurts envisions Arithon’s use of his innate skills as Masterbard and skilled sorcerer to complete such a peril-fraught task even without his full training and heritage to fall back on, are what make this series something special.
For Lysaer, the imprisonment of Arithon has bought his centuries of peace from the insidious influence of the Mistwraith’s curse. The stark, shocking realization that he underwent previously has carried over and he has distanced himself from the religion that he created to hunt and hound his nemesis and half-brother. The story of Lysaer has always been tragic and his life as the Mayor of Etarra has clearly not been satisfying, but I am led to respect him to a certain degree because he has realized the false nature and inherent evil of the political/religious cult that he created. Yet I loathe him still for being too cowardly to challenge and bring down the false priests and religious bigots who have overtaken his creation.
Inject into this caustic mix the ongoing feud between the Fellowship sorcerers who are tied at every turn as they seem to be outmaneuvered over and over again by the slimy and ruthless Prime Matriarch of the Koriathian. These overburdened, morally pure heroes never can seem to get ahead. I am left in awe of the fortitude that Sethvir shows as he reads the events of the world, at times powerless to intervene despite the incredible horrors that are being perpetrated on innocents. There are bright moments, things like Asandir’s continued role as Kingmaker, responsible for selecting and empowering the heirs to the Kingdoms and the awakening of the grand mysteries.
Initiate’s Trial is full of wonderful side stories as well. The youthful exuberance of young Clanmembers from Rathain who are bent on saving their liege lord, the humorous events surrounding the attempted execution of Arithon and his newly won friend, and finally the heart-wrenching service of the heir of Sulfin Event and her unstinting desire to save Lysaer from himself at any personal cost she must bear. These are examples of the moral fortitude and at times misplaced loyalties that have been the hallmark of the ethical questions that Janny Wurts has made a wonderful underlying theme of this series. Is misguided loyalty and service in fact evil when it enables bad choices to go unpunished? Such great ideas to consider, amid a story filled with action and adventure.
I am a die-hard fan of Janny Wurts and I love this series. If you are just starting with The Curse of the Mistwraith or you are returning to the world of Athera after a break, I can assure you that this latest book is worth reading. This is epic high fantasy at its finest and immersing yourself in this world of beauty, magic and characters that are both real and painfully flawed is simply a joy. I can’t wait for the next book.