The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe
|The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: Glorious beginning to a new fantasy saga, full of all the traditional elements of myth.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: March 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
If Night falls, all fall, so says the old legend. Oldest, first and greatest of all the Derai Houses on the Wall, the house of Night is proud of its role as holders of the Keep of the Winds, primary defence on the Shield Wall of Night – a range of mountains that separates the lands of the original inhabitants of the planet the Derai know as Haarth from the regions of the Dark Swarm that threaten Derai and Haarth-folk alike.
The Swarm have been less voracious of late and the old defensive ways are lessened. Legends are seemingly fading into just legends.
The Earl (head of the House) has been away in the lands beyond the Wall and his return is welcomed with the traditional formal feast: an unfortunate coincidence, as it means that the message of the Heralds who arrive that same day is delayed… and the fortress comes under immediate attack ahead of their warning.
The Heir of the title is Malian, a young girl, still with the boyish ways of one often allowed to run wild within the New Keep and who has found her way into the Old Keep, locked and closed since the Great Betrayal 500 years earlier. For her the legends have a more palpable edge. "If Night falls…" The House of Night is somewhat diminished and she alone is its future hope. Her mother died long ago and she is an only child. Aside from her father the Earl, the only other direct member of the Blood is the Priestess Korriya, banished to the Temple Quarter along with all others who display knowledge or talent in the old powers.
Also of the Temple Quarter is the boy Kalan. In temperament, as much an explorer as Malian, he has much less free time on his hands, but still manages to slip away now and then.
Fortunately for Night, neither Malian nor Kalan are where they should be when the attackers swarm the Keep – and more fortunately still there is empathy between them.
And so it begins… the old war reignited in night of blood and death and soul-destroying torment; a night in which old powers awaken in defence. Lowe's tale wins praise from fantasy author Robin Hobb as one of "strange magic, dark treachery and conflicting loyalties, set in a well-realised world": praise that stands the test of reading.
Time and words are not wasted in describing this world. One of the real joys of the book is the realisation of how much work the reader is allowed to do in creating it.
Focus is entirely on the few central characters and unfolding events. Although the devices used could be called crude (Kalan had a tutor with a personal love of the old histories and so knows more than many in the warrior cast of what went before; the Heralds know of the lands beyond the Wall as does the travelling bard Haimyr the Golden) they are subtly used to allow legends and history to emerge naturally through reference and conversation between the characters.
Neither the Keep nor the Wall is described in any detail. The richness and decay are hinted at, rather than expounded. As feasts are celebrated in lit halls, or battles rage in the depths, or watchers wait in firelit rooms with strange tapestries, we're given only significant details. If it is not relevant to the plot, it's not spoken of.
Characters are similarly accorded short shrift in terms of absolutes. We hear them talk, watch them act, are privy to their private thoughts and determine their characters for ourselves.
This is a risky strategy, since it trusts the reader to be familiar with such places, to be able to imagine such people, and to believe in magic and myth.
For one who has a love of our own mediaeval ruins and rich literary heritage of romance and fantasy and is endowed with an active (rather than purely reactive) imagination, it is a strategy that succeeds magnificently.
The magic seeps into the story, often as unknown to the characters as it is to the reader, and is allowed to build and deepen. For every development there is a back-story that makes the whole consistent within the created universe, but such bases are not always revealed immediately. Mystique and mystery are necessary in such novels, but only to the point that the curiosity can be held by the dangling thread and Lowe never misses a beat is ensuring that what has gone before is at least partially explained before bringing the next elemental into play.
As the book progresses, much happens – along the classical lines of battles, deaths and survivals, banishments, journeys and quests, meetings beyond the temporal realm and hidden treasures – but it becomes clear that the end is not in sight and that this novel is merely a beginning. In some ways that was a disappointment, I'd hoped for a stand-alone tale with a resolution. In the final analysis I hope that Lowe has a clearly defined arc for her story and a fixed number of episodes. She has created a dark and magical world, and given readers sympathetic characters and a reason to follow them, but there is a risk that it could play out too slowly.
Caveats about the future aside, The Heir of Night is a grand entrance. The myths embedded themselves in my subconscious sufficiently to haunt my dreams. I look forward to the next instalment.
My thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe at Amazon.com.
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