By Janny Wurts
This is a spoiler discussion post about The Ships of Merior as part of my Wars of Light and Shadow (re)read. 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.
This book starts 5 years after the conclusion of The Curse of the Mistwraith. Peace has reigned in large part. Yes, Lysaear has been building his cause and seeking news of Arithon, and he has also been sending out head hunters trying to exterminate the Clans of Rathain so that there are none to hide or support Arithon, but there have been no wars and the extreme enmity of the curse has not been triggered. Arithon has been travelling and apprenticing with Haliron, the master bard. At the beginning, Dakar is his usual self, creating problems, and in response Asandir sends him to Arithon. Thus begins the end to the peace.
Arithon is in disguise as Meldir, and Dakar suspects he is actually Arithon multiple times – and yet when Arithon is unmasked, Dakar is enraged and his loathing of Arithon intensifies. I did wonder if his violent reaction is in part a way to submerge his guilt in the fate of Haliron, which lies at his feet, redirecting his anger on a target that his not himself. Dakar has always been prejudiced against Arithon, and this continues to grow in this book. Despite spending over 500 years with mages, he has developed no wisdom or ability to pick up on cues and subtleties, so he twists everything to reinforce his negative opinion of Arithon and his favourable opinion of Lysaer. He is so focused on his hate of Arithon that he does not seem to care who or what the casualties are, he just wants free of him – mistake number two of Asandir’s to have put a geas on Dakar to force him to stay with Arithon. I do wonder though, with his ever increasing hatred of Arithon and his plots to kill him, why does the Fellowship not recall Dakar? There is no way that they have missed what he is up to and the impact it is having in the world.
The townsfolk of Jaelot took the prize for being the worst town we have come across so far. The level of corruption was bad enough, but the way that they treated the master bard, showing a complete disrespect for all traditions and anything other than their own greed and standing, was disgusting. As this was a reread, I knew what was going to happen with Haliron in Jaelot, but despite being prepared for it, I found it no less anger-inducing and heart-breaking. Was it the last step Arithon needed to take to become a master bard, triggering the new form of magic that he inherited along with this level of mastery? I wonder if he would have been able to take that last step without the level of emotion that he tapped into when playing Haliron’s lament. While playing, he tapped into the Paravian magic in the lanes beneath his feet. Was this just due to his reaching the skill of master bard, or was his mage training and abilities combining to enable him to do this? I wonder if Haliron would have been able to do it – there was a comment he made to Arithon afterwards that made me think this is very much part of being a master bard rather than being linked to his mage training, thus yes he would.
Lysaer continues to show his true colours, in my opinion. Yes, he is twisted by the curse but too much of what he thinks, says and does aligns to what he knew and what his family did on Dascen Elur. And his actions align with those of his father – embracing rage and twisting everything into a weapon. When he fails or there are any setbacks, it is all laid at the feet of s’Fallon. His release of Clan members after they are presented to him as slaves at first seems to be the shimmer of his unpolluted justice rearing its head and fighting through, but his decision to secretly send headhunters to track and kill the men shows that his Tysan gift continues to be twisted well beyond its nature, thanks to the curse and his complete surrender to it. His reaction to being confronted with the fact he is cursed, when he has Maenelle in custody, and again after the disaster with his fleet, shows through as more denial that it doesn’t fit his narrative. At times he seems to not know that he is cursed, but then you see that he does, and acknowledges it in a way, but redirects back to Arithon, the bane and excuse of everything.
The Koriani priestess who was living in the forest in Tysan did not originally want to give Lysaer the information he was seeking on the location of Arithon. Despite the order’s prejudice against Arithon and want to interfere with him, at this point they still seemed to care about the impact on innocents caught in between the two brothers, and didn’t want war to rare its head again. However, all that righteousness was thrown away at the suggestion of the information being bought with the location of their lost Waystone. The damage could have been minimised to an extent by giving Lysaer the location alone, however allowing him to see for himself sealed Maenelle’s fate and also halted any chance Arithon had to be able to complete his goal of leaving the continent, well beyond the reach of Lysaer and the curse. Later, the Prime interfered further, sharing the location with a captain set for vengeance – another casualty of Dakar’s plots. This manages to wipe all of the gains Arithon had won to try and buy the time he needed to build his ships and escape. The narrow- and single-mindedness of the Prime, and most of the order, make me even happier that the Fellowship have interfered with Elaira and worked to make sure that the order cannot ruin her, and that her lengthened life is not the burden of that created by the order.
There were so many great moments in this book – sad, exultant, and all in between. Some of my favourites were: the decision of Sethvir and Asandir to time the completion of their beacon with the moment of Maenelle’s death; Pesquil and the vengeance arrow (how, did I celebrate); and the union of Arithon’s master bard talents with Elaira’s healing magic to rebuild the fisherman’s hand, resulting in a moment of clarity for both of them.
Like book one, The Ships of Merior is beautifully written and everything included has a purpose. As I read it, I was simultaneously remembering things that were going to happen as well as just how much I love these books and why. And I can’t wait to read book three.
What were your thoughts on The Ships of Merior? Do you think the magic that Arithon spins with the lyranthe is solely master bard driven, or linked to his mage skills? What were some of your favourite moments?