With every new book in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW series by Janny Wurts, it gets harder and harder to write a review without either including massive spoilers for previous volumes or simply repeating the praise already heaped on it in earlier reviews. There are only so many variations on “gorgeous prose,” “intricate world-building,” “deep characterization,” “the books are consistently excellent” and so on. It’s especially hard to avoid spoilers for Traitor’s Knot, given that it’s the fourth book in a five book “arc”, and that arc itself is the third of five such arcs within the series.
Previous volumes in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW series often included a subtle way to review past events woven into the actual story, often seen from a new perspective or with an added new twist. Traitor’s Knot is different in that it instead starts off with a separate “Story Time Line — What Has Gone Before” section, summarizing the main events in the series from the start of The Curse of the Mistwraith right up to the end of Peril’s Gate. While this is a departure from previous volumes, it’s also perfectly understandable because, by now, Janny Wurts has ratcheted up the tension so high that pausing the story to look back at the past would break the inexorable momentum she has been building up throughout this arc. If it’s been a while since you read the previous books, definitely check out the time line; if not, dive right into the story, which picks up right where Peril’s Gate left off.
As a middle book in a series, Traitor’s Knot is almost flawless: it advances the story significantly, reveals meaningful new details and hidden layers, contains a few unforgettable scenes, and has an ending that will have you screaming for the next book. Regarding those unforgettable scenes: I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but two specific sub-chapters towards the end of this novel are so harrowing that it’s almost impossible to appreciate them fully on the first reading. If you’re a reader who’s been following these characters closely, you’re in for a wild ride that will push you past the boundaries of comfort.
After all, despite being the story of a world (not to say, several worlds) and its past and future, on another level this series is also a most private tale of familial strife, love and friendship. The players between them may hold the keys to the future of this world, but they’re still very human, and Janny Wurts never lets you forget this. Both dimensions are balanced throughout the series, but maybe never more so than in the breathless finale of Traitor’s Knot.
Having now read seven books in the WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, I consider it one of my favorite fantasy series ever, and Traitor’s Knot is yet another brilliant part of it. If you’re not reading these books yet, you’re missing out on one of the most well-rounded fantasy epics ever.