Janny Wurts’ The Master of Whitestorm is a stand-alone high fantasy that, like the author’s other work, differentiates itself from other fantasies published in the late 20th century that feature a medieval-style setting. The book has recently been produced in audio format by Audible and is read by British actor Simon Prebble, a highly decorated audiobook narrator and someone whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits. As expected, he does a wonderful job with The Master of Whitestorm and I recommend this audio version to anyone who wants to read or re-read this exciting and emotional story.
The story begins in the slave galley of a ship. Haldeth, whose wife and children were slaughtered by the Murghai, is now chained to the oar of one of their ships. As he slaves for his captors, he observes his benchmate, a man named Korendir who looks fierce but so far has never said a word — he just stoically rows. All the other slaves (and the Murghai) think Korendir is stupid or mute, but it turns out that he has spent his time studying and planning and suddenly, after years of slavery, Korendir announces to Haldeth that he plans to escape their captors. Haldeth reluctantly decides to throw in his lot with the enigmatic man and thus starts a lifelong friendship in which Haldeth will watch Korendir accomplish many other seemingly impossible feats and quests, mostly by outsmarting his opponents.
On the surface, The Master of Whitestorm is an episodic adventure story with a hero who will remind you of Hercules or Odysseus. He fights monsters, saves princesses, breaks curses, resists sirens, builds an invincible castle on a cliff, and outfoxes an elemental spirit. All of these exploits are exciting and there are many delightfully unique elements such as a city where everyone is cursed to be happy. There are some memorable characters such as a dwarf couple who contribute a bit of humor that helps to offset the grimness of the main characters. There is also a sweet romance.
But the story is more than just a series of exploits and quests. More than anything it’s a character study of both Korendir and Haldeth. We follow both characters for many years and it’s slowly revealed that Korendir is not as aloof and stoic as he seems. We learn that his courageous deeds are actually motivated by fear. In contrast, Haldeth, who observes Korendir’s reckless behavior, is also fearful. Both men struggle with the traumas of their past and their fears about an uncertain future. Korendir and Haldeth employ different coping strategies and their outcomes differ significantly.
The Master of Whitestorm is a satisfying self-contained story. Again, I highly recommend the audio version read by Simon Prebble.