Remarkable installment of the Wars of Light and Shadow series, this one sets the markers even further as the conflict around the half-brothers widens and ramifies in devastating chains of cause and effect, deepening and widening the range of tensions and schemes, counterploys, twists of fortune, intrigues and quests for survival.
The Koriani enchantresses, resolute in their “charge to restore civilization to lost grace” and descendants of an Order ancient beyond the boundaries of Athera, take position in a decisive manner and through manipulation and complex spells want to shape the future to achieve their goals and eliminate any threat in their path, regardless of the consequences that their drastic measures inevitably bring into the world.
Lysaer, meanwhile, shows not only his political brilliance and unparalleled charisma, but carefully lays the foundation for creating a cult around him, which answers the need for security of the frightened masses after the events in Vastmark and wins the support of town leaders ready to seize the advantage his campaign against the Sorcerers and the Clans provides. As a presence increasingly perceived as “beyond mere flesh and blood”, a savior sent to guide the people of Athera towards the prosperity of Light, he raises “the inspiration to fire men to offer themselves in sacrifice” and offers the clan bloodlines as prime target on his war, guilty of sheltering Arithon and last upholders of the Paravian law of unity, thus symbol of a burdensome past. Love and devotion now coupled with fear and blind faith, political incentives and manipulation of old feuds, for whatever interlocutor the prince seems able to find the right leverage, and strengthens his Alliance of Light: now wiser and thinking with “long-range purpose”, he begins to gather the town Factions of four kingdoms under his sunwheel banner. The maternal gift of farsight empowers a prince turned cold, able to reshape setbacks in “deliberate calculation to steer later events to his purpose”. Through the book, it emerges in all its gravitas Lysaer’s personal conviction that he must fight for Athera’s cause destroying not only his half-brother, but all that shackles the free development of the people and therefore, the Paravian rules.
I personally loved to read about his resolve, about a prince deprived of his place, poisoned by the curse of the Mistwraith, who decides to overcome any weakness and bury all his passion, to devote himself entirely to the cause of justice and mercy, even willing self-sacrifice for the Light to prevail over Shadow. Yet the seed of doubt remains, even under the spinning moral compass that guides his belief.
The Fellowship of Seven is hard pressed to handle the events. The Law of the Major Balance is painfully clear, they can help, advise and guide, but the Sorcerers cannot “use direct force to intervene without unseating the course of the world’s destiny” and without suffering retaliation, a truth they have bitterly learned in a “past outside of Athera’s historical records”. Yet the temptation lingers, as they are burdened by the pain of having to reckon with one of the princes, essential to counter the Mistwraith (whose threat is more real than ever and against which the Sorcerers have devised a star ward protection, probably piecemeal solution in the long-run), and of having asked the other one to stay alive at any cost, not only because his powers of Shadow are indispensable against the Mistwraith, but because he is pivotal to the Black Rose Prophecy and he is the last heir of a legacy they are sworn to preserve. Their adherence to the rules and their oath to uphold the compact with the Paravians are not without immediate consequences.
Arithon, now renamed Spinner of Darkness by his nemesis, perseveres in trying to escape the curse of the Mistwraith, which is growing stronger by the hour, while struggling to counter the Alliance of Light campaign of clan eradication. Mage-trained but still blind to his original powers, torn between guilt for ruining “uncounted others” and the need to keep his oath to the Sorcerers, he reluctantly keeps company with Dakar and Caolle. Through a “volatile mix of unlawful conniving and a devilish bent for playing unconscionable stakes”, he throws himself body and soul in plans to survive and save his allies, but the forces closing on him show clever and deadly intent, and unexpected strategies. A little reprieve from enemies and inner insanity is the music, and his gifts as Masterbard will soon prove to be a force to safeguard not only the difficult legacy of two royal bloodlines’ inheritance, but the very people who freely share loyalty and respect with the Teir’s’Ffalenn. As the story unfolds, his suffering borders to despair and there is only so much one can sustain on his own before succumbing...
This book offers deepening knowledge about the origins of the Fellowship and the Koriani and especially about the rules of balance that govern the world, the Fellowship’s sworn compact with the Paravians and the charter law signed by the High Kings when humanity had come seeking refuge on Athera. The reasons behind the blessed races’ disappearance also start to unveil themselves. Another intriguing lore thread, after Asandir’s revelations in The Ships of Merior, evolves around the great drakes of the Second Era and the war-stricken past of the Sorcerers. Enough to whet the appetite, but I am looking forward to continuing with Grand Conspiracy to understand how these elements will weigh in the balance of the tale (also at this point, reading the short stories Reins of Destiny and The Sundering Star is a bonus).
I liked this part of the series because it follows the princes and other characters, too, particularly Lirenda, Caolle and Mearn play a vital role in the evolution of the situation, each spurred by different motivations and faction backgrounds, but all guided by their personal feelings and free will, for the good or to the detriment of their own causes. Along with them, the complex character of Dakar provides moments of reflection and fun, as well as one cannot fail to notice the personal story of Morriel, Prime Senior of the Koriani and last keeper of the knowledge of her Order, now nearing the end of her prolonged lifespan. Princess Talith, pleasure and pain of Prince Lysaer; Maenol and Jieret, the young stewards of Tysan’s and Rathain’s kingdoms, forced to lead their people against the blind fury of the Alliance of Light. Eldir, the High King of Halvish, neutral in the conflict but enforcing the Paravian charter law, whose temperance will be sorely tested; Fiark and Feylind, now adults and resolved to play a part in the bigger scheme. Elaria, the ostracized Koriani, sole possessor of a deep and pure bond with Arithon, currently entangled in the web of another tragic prophecy concerning the fate of a green-eyed child... And, of course, the two princes, both cursed, but while Lysaer s’Llessid "became driven to self-sacrifice for morality, ennobling his losses through a public campaign of justification, Arithon s'Ffallenn more quietly bled in compassion until his solitary resilience ran dry". Amid this calm chaos, for fugitive Arithon there seems to be only one reprieve, to find the Paravians, mysteriously disappeared in the wake of the Mistwraith five hundred years before.
Again, another round of applause for Janny Wurts, who not only delivers great entertainment and weaves a story of relentless complexity with skilled narrative power, but also manages to balance all the subplots with suave control, and keeps offering well-rounded, developing characters, all set in an intriguing and multilayered universe. Just considering the first four books, the monumental work of planning in this series and the intense study and research that permeates even the smallest detail clearly shows, and enchants. I particularly relished the many insights about human nature and about the strength of the internal feelings and external loyalties that motivates the characters to live and act, fail and succeed: the ambition of Lirenda, the pride of Lysaer, the sensitivity of Arithon, the love of Talith, the hatred fostered by ignorance of the common people, the greed of the trade guilds, the need to feel protected of the masses. Reflection on politics, religion, the core beliefs of a human being, how not to empathize?
Fugitive Prince is certainly considerable, like The Curse of the Mistwraith, a stage setter of the story: it begins with a shocking scene, soon after the first part recalls the past events through clever interactions of the various characters in order to show the present situation from new points of view, then prepares and widens the stage, adding new elements and defining the various situations, just to pick up speed and peak in an intense denouement, as usual self-contained but which begs for the next book. I’ve duly obliged.