The Wall of Night #1
Written: Helen Lowe [website]
When: September 28,2010
Obtained via: Publisher (ARC)
Back Cover Blurb:
If Night falls, all fall . . .
In the far north of the world of Haarth lies the bitter mountain range known as the Wall of Night. Garrisoned by the Nine Houses of the Derai, the Wall is the final bastion between the peoples of Haarth and the Swarm of Dark—which the Derai have been fighting across worlds and time.
Malian, Heir to the House of Night, knows the history of her people: the unending war with the Darkswarm; the legendary heroes, blazing with long-lost power; the internal strife that has fractured the Derai’s former strength. But now the Darkswarm is rising again, and Malian’s destiny as Heir of Night is bound inextricably to both ancient legend and any future the Derai—or Haarth—may have.
I’m pretty late in this review, since the book came out in September, but I really wanted to talk about it. I finished this book awhile ago but life has kept me from my review. This book, though, deserves to be talked about and so here I am, late to the party, but with a case of wine in hand (figuratively speaking anyway).
When Eos offered up advance reader copies of this book, I jumped at the chance even though I knew nothing about the book. I’ve had good luck with Eos’ fantasy offerings as a whole, so I figured even if I’d never heard of the author before that I probably wouldn’t be disappointed. Man, am I glad that not only did I make that jump but that I actually managed to snag a copy.
I have to admit to a few misconceptions going into it. The cover art, though beautiful, is pretty misleading. I mean, we have a huge dark castle looming out of a creepy-looking forest and a cloaked figure in the foreground holding aloft a lantern. I thought for sure that this was a vampire book. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Make no mistake that this is a fantasy novel – and if you don’t believe me, one look at the blurb will prove it. It has a very slight science fiction flavor, in that the history of the Derai seems to be that they came to Haarth from a distant world. But it’s a science fiction flavor the way the first couple of Pern books were science fiction — only by the most remote of the world’s origins and (for this book, at least) that seems to have little bearing on the story.
In point of fact, we don’t learn much about the Darkswarm who are the sworn enemies of the Derai, or of the Derai people themselves. This novel focuses mostly on Malian, Heir to the House of Night, daughter of the leader of the foremost of Derai houses; and on her new-found friend, the young Kalan, who is a sort of apprentice priest at the local temple. They are separated from those who care for them, lost in the mountain-sized warren of the House while the treacherous and mysterious Darkswarm attack the House and Temple both.
This is another volume with more questions than answers, though I think not on the scale of Brandon Sanderson’s. The compelling portrayals of the main characters are comparable though. Both Malian and Kalan are young and naive but brave and they both live in a harsh world and culture. Their characters are vivid and both make choices believable for their age and experience.
The Derai seem to be a brutal people, one who put much stock in war and in physical might. There is also an undercurrent of treachery that sours their fearlessness into something dark and sort of bitter. I wanted to know more about the Derai, but I was also relieved when Malian begins the fantasy-series-required “hero’s journey” at the end of the book. The Derai and the Wall of Night they protect are just the tip of the enigmatic iceberg. The reader is given many teasing hints of more – and just as strange – cultures and peoples of Haarth.
I’m sold on this world, and on the characters. I want to know more. I think Helen Lowe has given us a unique new twist on the old “coming of age” fantasy trope and I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to do with it. Not only that, but now that I know from her website that she’s also a poet, I understand the beautiful imagery of this novel. The language here is gorgeous and unobtrusive. You’ll only notice how musically the words go together if you’re looking for it, otherwise you’ll just see the beautifully painted pictures of the scenes described. (Unless, of course, you don’t see pictures in your head**. Which boggles my mind, but is possible. Doubtless even if so, you’ll be able to appreciate this book anyway.)
The good news – at least for my overseas readers – is that I delayed in my review enough that now those in the United Kingdom can look forward to their local Heir of Night debut. The book is set to be released in March 2011, per the sidebar on the author’s website. Don’t feel bummed, US readers – you can pick up The Heir of Night now and still look forward to the sequel, coming out this fall. If you’re not convinced, then hear it from the author’s own lips over at John Scalzi’s Whatever feature: The Big Idea.
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**I was going to link, here, to an article I read by (I think) CE Murphy about how she doesn’t see images in her head when she writes and had no idea that anyone could even do that until she’d met someone who’d explained it to her. Except that I can’t find it. Oh, well.