The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe

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The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: The second instalment of the Wall of Night series picks up five years after the events of the previous book. Myth and magic give depth to a ravaging tale of treachery and hard-fought battles, while the occasional monsters don't detract from the very human story at its heart.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 555 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780356500034

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It may only have taken a year for the second in the Wall of Night series to hit the shelves, but on Haarth five years have passed since The Heir of Night disappeared from the Wall. She's known not to have died in the Swarm attack, but was last seen in the wilds of Jaransor and many believe her now to be dead.

But many, unlike the reader, don't know that both Malian and her companion Kalan escaped into the Winter lands, where they were protected and taught by the shamans, before being sent on their separate ways – separate for protection – for those seeking them are not their friends and they will be seeking the pair travelling together.

For her part Malian has Yorindersarinen's (greatest of the ancient Derai heroes') armring and the legendary helm, Nhenir – a helmet of shifting appearance, and a voice and will of its own. A useful spy, weaver of the magic of camouflage and concealment, and a teller of tales, Nhenir is also a keeper of secrets.

Through the gate of dreams Malian seeks the other lost weapons of the great hero who killed the Worm of Chaos, dying in the process, but the shield and the sword remain lost. Malian knows that if she is ever to return to the Wall and hold it against the dark Swarm, she will need all the weapons. More than that, you will need an army.

Jehane Mor and Tarathan, the heralds who had brought the original warning to the Earl of Night and play key roles in the earlier novel are where we pick up the thread… they are ridinging into Ij, on the Emor's business, in time for the Festival of Masks that coincides with the Conclave, the annual meeting of the city's rulers: the sages, the minstrels and the assassins.

The streets are full of gaiety, though the assassins are already at work and there are new threats. The Derai, previously unknown to stray so far south except on their brief trading missions, are in Ij in greater numbers, and there others from the North, unknown envoys who can only be from the Swarm. Trouble is brewing and the time-honoured neutrality of the heralds may not be enough to protect the guild.

Outside the town, armies gather and leaders negotiate…

Carick is a scholar. A cartographer from the River. There is more to him than meets the eye – for one thing he carries Seruthi charms about him, for another he is on the run through the wild lands with ravenous wolf-creatures on his trail. Perhaps there's more yet… for when the mysterious Raven rides to his rescue, he talks of smelling magic.

The plot rattles along at the same breakneck pace as the earlier novel, but is harder to hold as more and more of the history of Haarth is woven into the thread. The complexity of relationships and shifting allegiances sit uneasily on centuries of history that Lowe layers beneath her characters. Myths and legends are never just myths in this world. The gate of dreams is a physical portal into another dimension. As Malian reminds herself, it is never just a dream. Time itself is mutable, though prescience is only a seeing of what might be, not what will.

It holds to the traditional fantasy restraints of travel by horse or drawn carriage, honour codes from the chivalric era (if such a time ever existed) and earthly weapons limited to bows and swords and staves. The gods and goddesses are felt as real, but don't walk about interfering. The power of their priests and priestesses is a different matter. The old powers, the dark powers, for protection or attack, are drawn from all of earth's rich array. There are echoes from the Indian traditions and the Greek and the olde English, all remodelled and polished into a whole that entirely consistent within itself.

Magic is not easily worked however. It is draining, and it can be countered. Lowe ensures her characters have enough to fight against – on personal and emotional levels as well as physically – for the struggle to be rendered heroic.

Pure fantasy and an absolute treat.

Much of what happens The Gathering… only makes sense if you've read Heir of Night so I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone. I'm looking forward to the continuance in Daughter of Blood but I only hope that Lowe can resist the temptation to drag the tale out beyond the natural three-book rendition into something never-ending. With most of the historical context now unveiled, it would be rewarding to find some resolution.

Of course if you've come in in the middle, you should catch up with the The Heir of Night. Others to watch for are Karen Miller's Kingmaker series starting with The Innocent Mage

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