Surrender to the Will of the Night: Best Instrumentalities novel yet

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGlen Cook book review Instrumentalities of the Night 3. Surrender to the Will of the NightSurrender to the Will of the Night by Glen Cook

PLOT SUMMARY: Piper Hecht’s first and greatest secret is that he knows how to kill gods. It is knowledge that makes him dangerous, but also puts him in danger — from his enemies, who fear what he might do, or who want revenge for what he has already done; and from his friends, who want to use his knowledge for their own purposes.

For example, Piper’s sister Heris and his living ancestor  Cloven Februaren, the Ninth Unknown, have made Hecht part of their fight against the return of the dark god, Kharoulke the Windwalker. At the same time, the half-mad Empress Katrin wants him to lead the armies of the Grail Empire eastward on a crusade into the Holy Lands against his fellow Pramans.

Meanwhile, all around them, the world is changing. The winters are growing longer and harder every year, and the seas are getting shallower. The far north and the high mountain ranges are going under the ice, and fast. The Wells of Power, everywhere, keep getting weaker. And the old evils, the Instrumentalities from the Time Before Time, have begun to ooze back into the world…

FORMAT/INFO: Surrender to the Will of the Night is 496 pages long divided over 44 numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the main protagonist, Piper Hecht. Other viewpoints include the Ninth Unknown, Cloven Februaren; the Maysalean Perfect Master, Brother Candle; Nassim Alizarin, the Mountain; Helspeth Ege, Princess Apparent of the Grail Empire; and Piper’s sister, Heris. Considering the scope and complexity of The Instrumentalities of the Night, it’s highly recommended that readers finish The Tyranny of the Night and The Lord of the Silent Kingdom before attempting Surrender to the Will of the Night, the third volume in the series. Expect an ending in Surrender to the Will of the Night that wraps up most of the major plotlines in the book, but also acts as a cliffhanger/tease for the next volume in the series.

November 23, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Surrender to the Will of the Night via Tor. Like the previous Instrumentalities of the Night novels, cover art is provided by Raymond Swanland.

ANALYSIS: After reading The Tyranny of the Night and The Lord of the Silent Kingdom, I felt The Instrumentalities of the Night was developing into some of Glen Cook’s best work yet, and Surrender to the Will of the Night only confirms that thought…

Once again marrying the no-nonsense characterization, military action and dark humor of the author’s Black Company novels with the epic scope and inventive magic of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, as well as the complex medieval European/Middle Ages-influenced religion and politics of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire and Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars, Surrender to the Will of the Night is another hugely rewarding entry in The Instrumentalities of the Night series.

Plot-wise, politics remain front and center, this time revolving around the Grail Empress’ desire to launch a crusade to purge the Holy Lands of the Praman infestation with Piper Hecht leading the charge as the Commander of the Righteous army; Bronte Doneto’s ascension to Patriarch; secret documents declaring the surprising heir to the End of Connec; and Indala al-Sul Halaladin’s attempt to unify the kaifates of al-Minphet and Qasr al-Zed in order to undertake his own crusade. But overshadowing all of the world’s political matters is the looming threat of the powerful Instrumentality, Kharoulke the Windwalker.

Of these numerous storylines, I most enjoyed the one with Kharoulke the Windwalker and those tasked with defeating the Instrumentality, including the Ninth Unknown, Cloven Februaren, Piper Hecht’s sister, Heris, the Aelen Kofer (dwarves), and the ascendant, Asgrimmur Grimmsson, who was largely responsible for freeing the Windwalker in the first place. Mostly taking place in the magical Realm of the Gods where the Old Ones were imprisoned by Asgrimmur in The Tyranny of the Night, this particular storyline felt similar to reading a Tad Williams fantasy novel. However, true to form, Glen Cook provides his own unique spin on such familiar epic fantasy trappings as magical worlds and mythical races, while keeping the reader unbalanced with unexpected twists and turns, like the surprising way Kharoulke the Windwalker is handled. For most of this storyline, narratives are provided by the entertaining Cloven Februaren and the resourceful Heris, who are highlights of the novel.

That said, Piper Hecht remains my favorite character in the series, and once again is awarded center stage in the third volume of The Instrumentalities of the Night. What I love most about Piper is his grounded, no-nonsense approach to everything in his life — his job, family, friends, co-workers, enemies, the Instrumentalities, et cetera — which, more than any other character in the series, embodies the spirit of Glen Cook’s timeless Black Company novels. More than that though, Piper Hecht is just an incredibly interesting individual who has to deal with a ton of intriguing complications in his life from leading a double life as Piper Hecht — complete with a fake wife, fake children and a fake history — that feels more real than his actual life; to enduring the burden of being the Godslayer; harboring a dangerous attraction to Helspeth Ege, the Princess Apparent of the Grail Empire; and being related to a family of powerful magic-users; while new complications include Piper finding a way to prevent Empress Katrin — who becomes more insane over the course of the novel — from launching a crusade into the Holy Lands; Krulik and Sneigon selling godshot and falcons (the weapons used to kill Instrumentalities) to anyone who can afford it; and even more assassination attempts.

Of the other main characters, Brother Candle is once again mainly an observer, resulting in the most boring chapters in the novel, but thankfully the Maysalean Perfect Master is not given very much face time. Nassim Alizarin’s narrative meanwhile, is somewhat similar to Brother Candle’s, as his chapters act primarily as a window for what’s happening in the Holy Lands, including setting up what could be future confrontations with Gordimer the Lion and the sorcerer, er-Rashal al-Dhulquarnen. Disappointingly, the novel only dedicates a few short chapters to Helspeth Ege, but considering what happens to her sister Katrin, the Princess Apparent is primed for a much larger role in forthcoming sequels.

Comparatively, Surrender to the Will of the Night possesses many of the same strengths that are present in The Tyranny of the Night and The Lord of the Silent Kingdom, including a rewardingly elaborate story, unforgivingly complex politics, a huge and diverse cast of characters, and epic action sequences. Unfortunately, Surrender to the Will of the Night also possesses many of the same weaknesses, including a noticeable lack of a map or glossary to help readers process the immense amount of information that is available, a writing style that occasionally does too much telling rather than showing, and prose that is sometimes too sparse for it’s own good: “The children smirked and giggled at breakfast. Hecht ignored them. It was a fine day. He had no obligations. He planned to stay right here and do nothing.”  However, because of the increased roles of Cloven Februaren and Heris; the entertaining Windwalker storyline; and a number of exciting developments involving the discovery of Ferris Renfrow’s secret identity, the deaths of five powerful rulers, and the revelation that Piper Hecht/Else Tage might not be the Godslayer after all; Surrender to the Will of the Night is the best Instrumentalities of the Night novel yet.

In the end, Surrender to the Will of the Night and The Instrumentalities of the Night series is required reading for anyone who loves Glen Cook or considers themselves a true fan of fantasy literature.

~Robert Thompson


Glen Cook book review Instrumentalities of the Night 3. Surrender to the Will of the NightSurrender to the Will of the Night is the third book in Glen Cook’s Instrumentalities of the Night series, and despite its great potential, shares some of the same flaws as its two predecessors.

There are several major plot strands braided together. One involves Piper Hecht’s growing entanglement with the Grail Empire, headed by Empress Katrin, who wishes to hire Piper away from the Patriarch’s army and make him commander of her new Righteous Army, which she plans to send on crusade to rid the Holy Lands of the Praman’s. Luckily for her, upheaval in the Patriarchal hierarchy may make Piper free to consider her request (Piper’s attraction to Katrin’s sister Helspeth doesn’t hurt). Speaking of the Holy Lands and the Praman, a secondary plot involves an attempt by Indala al-Sul Halaladin to unify the Praman into a single kaifate, ending their internecine warfare/raiding and freeing them to focus on liberating the Holy Lands in a counter-crusade. Meanwhile, parallel to all this is a magical battle by Cloven Februaren (the “Ninth Unknown”) and Piper’s sister Heris against Kharoulke the Windwalker, one of the most powerful and worst Instrumentalities. And, as usual in this series, there are a host of other “meanwhiles” one could add.

The most captivating plot involves the book-length campaign against Kharoulke, in which Februaren and Heris have to enter another world, enlist the aid of long-vanished dwarves, find a way across the rainbow bridge into the castle of the gods, etc. The plot-line is interesting and enlivened by the entry of Norse mythology fully into the storyline. This entry is made more complex and rich by the clash of that mythology and traditional magic with the increasingly sophisticated technology beginning to be deployed in this world. This plot strand is also less bogged down by details of geography, political influence, genealogy, and other overwhelming or dry details that hinder the other storylines somewhat. But the largest reason I found this plot most enjoyable, though, was due to those involved. Februaren, Heris, the Ascendant, and one of the leading dwarves all have very distinctive, vibrant narrative voices, and so the story seems to come alive whenever we switch back to this group.

The plot involving Piper’s growing estrangement from the Patriarchy and entanglement with the Grail Empire I found less compelling. One reason is those dry and sometimes overwhelming details of politics, geography, and genealogy. Another is that I never had a sense it wasn’t going to go where it did, so I felt I was reading all these machinations and details simply to get to where I knew I was going anyway. And truth be told, though he’s the main character, I find Piper’s character curiously flat, considering his history. His interactions with his comrades are trademark Cook, wry and gritty, and when we spend some quality time with him he’s an engaging character. Too often, though, he (and thus we) are getting thrown so much information, or being whirled so quickly from place to place or plot to plot, that it loses some emotional depth.

The Praman sub-plot is similarly a bit flat, feeling at times more like reportage to keep us up to date as to what’s happening in that part of the world. It does have its moments, especially when Nassim Alizarin, one of the major players, deals with one of his more unpleasant commands. Brother Candle, from the earlier books, returns here but in somewhat perfunctory fashion, mostly being a conduit for some legal papers. His is probably the least interesting and narratively satisfying storyline, but it isn’t granted too many pages.

Surrender to the Will of the Night, beyond the ups and downs of plot and character, shares a few of the same reading frustrations I had with the first two books. One is the lack of a map. Much more than most books, this is a series where geography plays a major role. Characters are flying (not literally for the most part) all over the place, and when they’re not going to a setting they’re referring to it (often by more than one name). A map here is less a luxury, I’d say, than an essential reading tool to get the fullness of the story. The same holds true for a glossary/reading cast. Not only are there a slew of characters, but many of them are referenced via multiple names: nicknames, real names, titles, land names, assumed names. It can get difficult keeping track of which count/duke/etc is which.

Stylistically, Surrender to the Will of the Night could do with better transitioning between scenes. The book seemed far too stripped of these, making for distractingly abrupt shifts from scene to scene, place to place, character to character, and an overall disjointed reading experience. And there’s a bit too much of the reportage I mentioned, where the reader is told what is happening (or what happened off stage) rather than being shown it.

In the end, Surrender to the Will of the Night continues, for both good and bad, what the earlier two books began. The Instrumentalities of the Night is a truly ambitious series that perhaps mirrors a little too much the complexity of the real world with its infinite events and choices and constant clamoring for attention to a million items, and then throws in an entire other world to boot. It’s frustrating reading at times, dealing with so much underbrush as well as some rough transitioning. While it has so far been rewarding enough, it’s only just so, and the ratio between frustration and reward is not quite what I would like it to be.

~Bill Capossere


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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2 comments

  1. I always like it when we have two reviews of the same book on the same day! Love the similarities and differences in how reviewers react to a book.

  2. Yeah, it is pretty interesting to see how reviews differ for the same book :)

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