The Curse of the Mistwraith

By Janny Wurts

This is a spoiler discussion post about The Curse of the Mistwraith. The intention is to talk openly about this book and why I think it is masterful, and to encourage discourse with others who enjoyed this book, or those who didn’t. If you haven’t read this book and think you might want to at some stage, close this post now. You have been warned.

The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts

Given it has been well over ten years since my last reread, I had very little memory of people and events (outside of the big ones of both) when I picked it up. However, very soon after I started reading, I also started remembering so much and anticipating events to come. At the same time, the reread was filling me in on all the details I couldn’t recall, or had missed on previous reads.

The book opens on Dascen Elur, and here we already see a schism between the two half brothers, as well as the key differences between the two that are threaded through the story, and amplified later on with the curse. Lysaer is quick to judge, and can only see the one point of view: that Arithon used shadow to kill and that the resultant death of his subjects caused by Arithon’s actions are reprehensible (without differentiating attack from defence). Arithon is grieving the death of his father and people, as well as his defilement of his mage craft that resulted in deaths, despite using them in an attempt to prevent them.

Following the half-brothers being exiled into the desert between the two worlds, Arithon faces the hardship, digs out memories from the archives of how to get through to their origin world from when their ancestors left 500 years prior, and attempts to assist Lysaer. Lysaer, on the other hand, folds in the face of hardship and losing everything. In this moment, he appears to be defined by the privilege of his station and the life that he has lost. Was it the years of hardship and mage training that has prepared Arithon for what they now face, and the years of being pampered while also being honed towards hatred of Arithon and his father that has Lysaer wallowing and failing to take responsibility? Arithon is forced to act to save Lysaer – or make Lysaer save his life – but this cements the schism between the two and gives more ammunition to Lysaer for his hatred. As well as providing an opening for the curse. Oh his own, Lysaer would have died, but this doesn’t stop him from waiting and plotting and taking his chance to go for the kill as soon as it arises. Yes, he does end up rewinding some of the damage, but without the fountain, he would have been too late, so does this count in his favour?

On Athera, when Lysaer and Arithon and found by Asandir and Dakar, we see another layer of prejudice. Almost instantly, Dakar is suspicious of Arithon, and this suspicion flavours every encounter and every interpretation of action going forward. Even to the point of disregarding what the Fellowship of the Seven tell him, and thinking them deceived. He is an apprentice, and yet his prejudice is such that he feels he understands and knows more than fully trained mages. Later, we also see the Koriani Prime jumping to the wrong conclusions about Arithon, and therefore by extension to Lysaer. Here is where we see a common thread throughout, about assumptions and how a person’s actions can be interpreted in different, and often erroneous, ways.

There is a suggestion that had Arithon not provoked Grithen into acting on his ambush, Lysaer’s introduction to clan may have been gentler and allowed for less disgust and prejudice to build. Asandir said as much to Arithon when sharing his initial plans of introducing Lysaer to the clans. I think this introduction didn’t help, but I don’t think it was key to Lysaer’s impression, as Asandir supposed. All of Lysaer’s life, he had been trained to understand that his kingdom was in the right, and all they were doing was protecting their land, people, chattel and wealth from the pirate nation that Arithon’s father led. He learnt that there was no reasonable excuse for piracy, and that trying to survive in a harsh environment that they had somehow been forced into, but also protect against raids, was not the root cause. Killing is never right, but in conflict no one side is ever always in the right – this is one lesson that Lysaer was never taught, and likely neither was his father. After all, if it doesn’t support your narrative, isn’t it best to ignore something. We see this later when Lysaer gives in to the possession and resultant curse and all of his actions after this event. He therefore saw the parallel between his kingdom on Dascen Elur and the townsmen on Athera, and Arithon’s on Dascen Elur with the clansmen on Athera. The curse twisted and amplified his prejudices and hatred, but while the scale and vengeance of his opinions might be directly related to the curse, I think the overall outcome of which side he would have come down on was exactly the same. Even before the curse took hold, he was brushing off what was happening to the enslaved children in Etara as being acceptable because they were “only” criminals’ children.

The Fellowship are curious, and despite being thousands of years old mages, curiously they don’t seem to understand the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. In stepping back and allowing events to occur on the day of Arithon’s coronation, in an attempt to see one prophecy fulfilled, they triggered, or just didn’t prevent, others that they had been hoping to avoid. Or did they that every possible outcome included the events that unfolded? I don’t think so, as they were concerned that the failed coronation meant the Black Rose prophecy would not come to pass.

The battle, and what happened to Steiven’s clan was horrific. Arithon tried so hard to head off what he saw, and he didn’t manage to change any of it. Or very little. I do wonder if his scrying had not been interrupted, would he have seen the outcome with the boys, and as a result the women and children, and could he have prevented it? My heart broke. I was sickened by the justification that Lysaer used for both his actions and the outcome. When he stepped in to stop what was happening to the women and children, I thought for a sliver of time that perhaps he wasn’t as abhorrent as he seemed, but no, he had no problem with the killing, he just wanted it to be clean. After all, none of this was his fault, it was all Arithon’s. Just as everything that happened in the desert world, his exile, and everything that happened on Dascen Elur, was Arithon’s fault.

In this first book, we are already starting to see the rise of a false God and the start of a new religion. Lysaer’s preaching as he gave into the possession and curse, his breaking of the shadows in Etara with his power of light and the reaction of the crowd had the workings of “good vs evil”, “god vs devil”, light being a symbol of all that is good and shadow a symbol of all that is ill. His actions, and words, during and after the battle emphasise this and we can see how this will build and feed the curse.

Into the bleakness that surrounds all of the events in book one, Janny Wurts also delivers some light. This is in the form of Elaira. At first I thought the speed of Elaira developing feelings for Arithon was a bit questionable. But as the story progressed, and we learnt more about Elaira and her life, I think it was understandable. She has been alone for so long. She questions her order and her life, and has the sort of perception that isn’t nurtured within the Koriani, but allows her to see Arithon as he truly is and the similarities between them. Traithe’s message to Elaira intrigues me: the importance of her and Arithon being true to each other, and that if either fails all is lost. I believe this is linked to the return of the Paravians just as much, if not more than, anything else.

And finally a comment on the writing. I had forgotten just how easy to read these books are. It drew me in quickly and had me fully engaged from very early on – quickly eating up the pages despite my reduced daily reading time. I loved the style of prose, and the structure of the chapters, sub-chapters and snippets. Being able to follow events along a single trajectory, with no jumping back in time, is something rare within epic fantasy, and Janny Wurts has found an excellent way to do it. One that works very well in the story that she is telling. Everything that was included in the story was included for a reason – nothing felt unnecessary.

What were your thoughts on The Curse of the Mistwraith? Did you interpret things differently from me? What assumptions/conclusions have you made so far?

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