Wars of Light and Shadow

This week’s episode of Fantasy Friday in the Bookshelf spotlight is my all time favourite series: Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts. Shortly after I had finished reading The Empire trilogy by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts, Janny’s first book in this series, The Curse of the Mistwraith came out. I think it was 1994. I was living in Australia at the time, so we only got the paperbacks. And not nice big trade paperbacks either. I had loved Empire, and could see Janny’s influence on it over The Riftwar Saga, so I of course wanted to try her solo work. Little did I know, it would spawn a love story (for me of Janny’s writing) that would span several decades. I picked up each book as they came out. They were published further apart with each book after The Ships of Merior, but I didn’t mind as that gave me a chance to reread them all. Each time I would pick up something more that I had missed before. Not in a “this is difficult to read and decipher” kind of way, but a “there is so much depth and Janny keeps blowing my mind” situation.

All of that rereading did eventually result in my copies being a bit overloved. Or maybe I just wanted the excuse to buy all new copies again, with matching covers, so I replaced all eight copies above recently. And these will be sent off to a friend – they should have been sent to her months ago, but life.

Yes, those last two are hardbacks. The first time I had access to hardbacks as they came out when I was living in the UK. Both were preorders, and the final volume will get the same treatment from me.

So, what is this series about and why do I love it so much?

Two half brothers, Arithon and Lysaer, are banished to another world. There they both drink from a fountain, unknowingly extending their life by 500 years. They end up in a world smothered by a thick mist and are tasked to battle it. This battle unfortunately unleashes a curse: one of enmity towards each other, that will build with time and proximity and is destined to bring the whole world into the fight with them. That’s the general, over-simplified, nutshell. And it is also so much more than that. I went into the series knowing nothing more than what was on the back of the first book. It’s my preferred way to enter any book, but especially a new series. However, as I’m about to start my great reread in anticipation of the final volume, and some of you may be reading this as an intro to that and your start of this journey, here is some additional information.

The story is made up of 5 arcs:

  • Arc 1: The Curse of the Mistwraith
  • Arc 2: The Ships of Merior and The Warhost of Vastmark
  • Arc 3: Fugitive Prince, Grand Conspiracy, Peril’s Gate, Traitor’s Knot, and Stormed Fortress
  • Arc 4: Initiate’s Trial and Destiny’s Conflict
  • Arc 5: Song of Mysteries (in final editing, estimated submission to publisher: March 2023)

Here’s what Janny says about the arc structure. I am paraphrasing some of this, but as they are Janny’s words, not mine, I’m putting them into a quote.

The arcs are necessary as each phase uncovers another set of depths – the vantage of what you are seeing changes, so if you go back, you’ll see a different set of conflicts, factions, etc. Arc one sets the scene. You see the characters’ perspectives, however everything else is out in the open and you’ll go back in a reread and think “how did I miss that” or “how did my assumptions lead me astray”. Arc two deepens the world, the characters and the conflict. The vantage is opened and you start to see that things may not be as they seem. Arc three raises the vantage to the world view. Here you see the factions and the world-wide contention of power. Arc four stages the mysteries. There are many entry points to access magic and you begin to see the elder power, but still won’t see it act. Arc five are the elder powers and it will shock you that they were there all along, but very great power walks very very softly.

Every book has a pause point, and a halfway point where the ground shifts so what you thought you were seeing will change. And this structure carries through each arc and the series as a whole. Mid point in the third arc, Peril’s Gate, is the tipping point of the series, where the convergence starts and accelerates as you finish the series.

Don’t be thrown if things are slowing down, it’s the arc structure gearing back up. Think of a bicycle: climb another hill, have another vantage point, repeat.

Janny has also said that some readers are put off by the style of writing, but she did it on purpose – to slow the reader down so you pay attention to the details. This is not a series for skim readers. I’m a slow reader, reading every word aloud in my head, so maybe this is why I never noticed anything challenging with her writing style. I noticed it was different, and that I loved it, but that’s all.

Janny spent thirty years planning this series before she submitted the first book for publishing. She had also largely written the first 6 books. And this attention to detail and ensuring she knew the entire plan of how her story would unfold and in how many books, shows. In contrast to many other authors, old and new, I never got the sense that Janny got lost or had spun too many threads and was struggling to bring them back together. Every event, every thread, has a purpose. And this is just partly why I consider this series to be a masterpiece that is unlikely to be knocked out of the top spot as my all time favourite series.

If this post has tempted you to give this series a try, the books are getting harder to find. Blackwells in the UK does have them, and while several of the newer volumes are often listed as out of stock, fill out the “notify me” request as they periodically restock them. The price also includes shipping world-wide. I’ve also had luck requesting my local indie bookshop to order them in – some required a wait of a few months, but I didn’t mind. And I’ve also seen that they are all now available as eBooks, if that is your preference. Alas, for those who need/prefer audiobooks, there are none (well, except book 9, but that’s not all that helpful).

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