Review: The Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe
This is the second book in Helen Lowe’s The Wall of Night series. It was released March 27th in the US.
Garrisoned by the Nine Houses of the Derai, the towering mountain range called the Wall of Night is all that separates the people of Haarth from the terrible Darkswarm.
Five years have passed since the Wall was breached and the Keep of Winds nearly overrun. Five years since the Heir of Night, Malian, and her friend and ally Kalan went missing in the wild lands of Jaransor.
Now, in Haarth’s diverse southern realms, events are moving. From the wealthy River city of Ij to the isolated Emerian outpost of Normarch, rumors of dark forces and darker magics are growing. As the great Midsummer tournament at Caer Argent approaches, Haarth will have one opportunity to band together against an enemy in which few believe . . . or be lost forever. [Barnes&Noble]
Lowe writes in jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each book is a story unto itself but also reveals only a small, tantalizing bit of the larger story. I thought I knew what that larger story was after the first book. I was sure I knew the ultimate goals, and after finishing book two the only thing I’m sure of is that I knew nothing. I both admire her technique (as a writer) and hate it endlessly (as a reader). Her books are tidbits, small tastes of a glorious feast and it is torture to wait so long between mouthfuls.
I admit that I read the first few chapters of the book completely bewildered by everything. Here was a whole new set of characters that had never been mentioned before. I started to wonder if I had even remembered the earlier book’s plot correctly at all. After awhile, I was nearly frustrated enough to put the thing down. Where was Malian, the Heir of Night, our heroine from the first book? Dead, came the rumor, whispered through the pages. I was horrified that perhaps the rumor was correct and the series would now go in a completely different direction.
Then, just before I decided to throw the thing down forever, there trod back onto the pages the Heralds from the previous book: Tarathan of Ar and Jehane Mor. Okay, I thought to myself, maybe this is going somewhere after all. I’ll give it just a little while longer. The new story was fascinating, after all, even if it wasn’t what I had expected. Even if I had no idea how it related to the previous book at all.
Just as I had settled in to reading about nearly a whole new set of characters, the sucker punch came flying. I would like to say that I saw it coming, but that would be a lie. It knocked me on my ass! I won’t tell you what it is, because that would ruin the surprise (and hey, I don’t want to be the only one sitting here all stunned and dismayed and delighted, now do I?) Suffice to say that things are not what they seem in this book. Not at all.
From that moment, I was committed to finishing this book that I had thought I would put down forever. When I first finished it, I felt like the story hadn’t advanced at all, and I was a bit disappointed. What had they accomplished of the original goals of the story? It didn’t feel like very much. More and more obstacles were thrown in the paths of our heroes, and it seemed like they were worse off than ever.
After having some time to dwell on it, I have to say… That I was absolutely correct. Our heroes are further from accomplishing their goals than they ever were. Instead of going forward, the story has progressed in a direction that I hadn’t expected. But I’m no longer disappointed by that. It has grown deeper, wider. What we have now is no longer simply a traditional hero’s journey with a new twist. The Heir of Night was a book all about seclusion, isolation, and walking lonely paths with few allies.
The Gathering of the Lost is completely different and new. It is a book about companions: friendships and everything that those things entail. We see loyalty, betrayal, lust and love. The story didn’t go as far forward in length as I would have liked, but what it did not it made up for in sheer breadth and scope. The more I consider it, the more I realize that this book completely changed the game. And that is amazing. Lowe has managed to shake the very foundations of her world (for the reader, at least, as presumably she knew this was coming all along), while paradoxically remaining true to the expectations she laid out in the very first book.
I honestly don’t have any idea how she managed it, which just goes to show that as a writer I have much to learn. As a reader, I will be gnashing my teeth in wait for the next volume. That is the trouble with reading advanced copies of things. It seems like you have to wait even longer for the next one!