Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling

(Written October, 2015)

Series: Nightrunner, book 6

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 2012

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Summary: Flewelling’s sixth entry in the Nightrunner series takes place entirely in Seregil and Alec’s home city of Rhímenee, which is actually something of a nice change after the last three books (Book 3 took place in Aurënen, Book 4 in Plenimar, and Book 5 in Aurënen/traveling/Plenimar). The gist of the plot is that various groups of conspirators are plotting to assassinate various royals, and Alec and Seregil must discover their plans before it is too late. At the same time, a mysterious illness has come to the city — the Sleeping Death. As more and more people fall victim, and even the wizard Thero can’t determine why, Seregil and Alec begin to suspect something more sinister than mere sickness is at work. Besides Seregil and Alec, this book also features their friend Thero, Princess Klia, and, of course, the Cavishes.

Thoughts: It was good, but in some ways unsatisfying. The plot was fairly solid — better than books 4 and 5, but not quite on the same level as the first three. We got to see a bit of development between Seregil and Alec, but this is pushed aside as the chapters are taken up by visits to various nobles and interactions with other characters. I’d have liked to see more about how they are each dealing with the aftermath of the whole Sebrahn thing. We get a few mentions about Alec’s sadness at having had to let go of Sebrahn, and Seregil’s continuing anxiety about Alec after what happened to him in Plenimar. Still, they were enslaved, tortured, separated for weeks or months, and so on — but none of that seems to have had much of a lasting effect on their characters.

I was also disappointed that Alec and Seregil don’t seem to have learned anything new in this book. In the other books, they’ve discovered either something significant about their pasts or about themselves. I’d also have like to see them learn some new skills, or put their skills to more impressive use. I mean, the bad guy wasn’t even that impressive in this one, but he came off as being almost more clever than Seregil. Maybe it’s because they were supposed to be somewhat similar, but still — it doesn’t seem like he should have been as much of a challenge as he was.

I’m still looking forward to the last book, though. Maybe everything I’ve been hoping for will happen in that one. I’d like to see lots of impressive archery from Alec, learn something special about either character, see lots of relationship details, and some character development for Seregil (he was honestly a bit flat in this one).

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Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 4

Genre: fantasy

Year of publication: 2008

Rating: ♥♥♥

Summary: The old queen, Idrilain, has died, and Phoria is now the ruler of Skala. Suspicious and jealous of the loyalty her sister, Klia, commands from the army and the people, she left her unofficially exiled in Aurënen at the end of the last book. Now, she sends Alec and Seregil to bring word to her that she is to return to Skala. En route, Seregil and Alec are attacked by raiders, carried off to the enemy land of Plenimar, and sold into slavery.

For most of the book, Seregil and Alec remain captives, subjected to various forms of torture and subjugation. The man who holds them is an evil alchemist who needs Alec’s blood to create a strange, inhuman creature called a rhekaro, which is purported to have amazing powers of healing. In the meanwhile, Seregil encounters a ghost from his past, and Alec’s mixed blood complicates matters.

Finally managing to get loose, Alec and Seregil’s future is uncertain, and the events they experienced in this book will certainly have a lasting impact on their characters and on the direction of the next story.

Thoughts: This book was, unfortunately, not as good as the first three in the series. Just in terms of physical appearance, it had a more YA feel — larger type with lines spaced further apart. The plot was not as detailed and well-paced as the previous stories, and the setting (most of it takes place within various cells and rooms of the alchemist’s house) was not as interesting. Furthermore, the regular supporting characters did not get to make much of an appearance.

The whole captive/bondage thing got really tiring after a while, and I began to wonder why the author had taken the story in this strange direction. In retrospect, I’m more forgiving – mostly because I feel like she wrote herself into a corner, but unlike many other authors, managed to write herself back out again pretty admirably. There are a few plot holes and questions left unanswered, (like if Phoria wasn’t behind the kidnapping, why did she send Alec and Seregil to Aurënen instead of just using one of Thero’s message sticks?), but nothing too glaring. In the end, some critical pieces of Seregil’s past are revealed, and the setup for the next book looks more promising.

Traitor’s Moon by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 3

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1999

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary & thoughts: The third installment of the Nightrunner series was a bit of a slower read than the first two books. The bulk of it is taken up by political intrigue and careful mystery solving, rather than action. It takes place in Seregil’s homeland of Aurënen, and revolves around Princess Klia’s efforts to establish a trade agreement and gain Aurenfaie aid for Skala’s ongoing war with Plenimar. Meanwhile, Seregil is dealing with the emotional pain of returning home while still under the ban of exile, and considered a murderer and traitor by most of his own people.

A tiny bit is learned about Alec’s mysterious heritage, but nothing concrete. A few things happen to Alec that hint at something special about him, but nothing comes of it by the book’s end. Given Flewelling’s deliberate plot pacing, this could well be setting the stage for the next book.

As for the main attraction: Alec and Seregil are now officially lovers, but the book remains decidedly PG-13. I was disappointed that most of their relationship development seemed to have happened “off-stage” between the end of the last book and the beginning of this one. Their devotion to each other and the strength of their feelings are now taken for granted.

Supporting characters: Thero does indeed step in to fill the place of the “wizard friend,” and becomes more likeable; in fact, he is actually one of the most dynamic character in the series, in that his character changes as the story progresses. Beka remains a strong supporting role, and gains a love interest of her own during their time in Aurënen, who promises to be an interesting addition in his own right. I could see Beka having her own book — or even her own series. We also get to know Princess Klia better, and her relationship with the other characters deepens.

I strongly respect Flewelling’s ability to write a complex, high fantasy story without making it a chore to read. I also love how Alec and Seregil’s romance is almost incidental. It’s part of their characters, and it’s the reason I read the books at all, but without it the plot would be just almost as compelling, and the characters just as strong.

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 2

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1997

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary: Picking up where the last book left off, Alec and Seregil must unravel the mysterious plot they find themselves caught up in. It seems that necromancers from an enemy country want to resurrect an ancient war god, who will give them the power to conquer the neighboring lands of Skala and Mycena — and perhaps even Seregil’s homeland, Aurënen. As Seregil and Alec try to discover the enemy’s plan, they also discover more about themselves. Alec learns he is indeed half Aurenfaie, meaning he will live as long as Seregil — somewhere around 400-500 years. Seregil learns that he has fallen in love with Alec; and eventually, after some education at the hands of a beautiful female courtesan, a few moments of confusion, and a long separation, Alec realizes that he loves Seregil as well.

I was sad to see one of my favorite characters depart at the end of this book, although it seems another may be fit to take his place. The loss has a deep effect on Seregil, and for a while it seems that his grief might be stronger than his love. In the end though, Alec and Seregil finally confess their love for each other, and set off for parts unknown.

Thoughts: Flewelling is a good writer. The plot is strong, and the characters are solid, well-developed, and engaging. It’s easy to love the good guys, and hate the bad guys. Reading these reminds me of what reading used to feel like as a kid, when I would devour series like Brian Jacques’ Redwall books, or Tamora Pierce’s earlier stuff. It’s pure entertainment, and it’s great.

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 1

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1996

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

This (IMHO) is fantasy done right. Summary: Alec is a young man falsely imprisoned for spying. He’s rescued by the mysterious Seregil, who takes an unexpected liking to him and takes him on as an apprentice “watcher” — a kind of honorable spy/thief. Most of the book is taken up with Alec and Seregil’s journey to Seregil’s home city of Rhiminee, meeting his wizard friend, Nysander, and uncover a plot against the throne. Seregil is something called an Aurënfaie — a people kind of like Tolkien’s Numenoreans — long lived and beautiful, but not immortal. There are hints that Alec may be at least part Aurënfaie himself, although this is not revealed.

Thoughts: Although a lot of time is spent on world-building, it doesn’t get tedious or boring. The world is quite complex, but well-crafted and not hard to understand.The relationship between Alec and Seregil is developing sloooow — I’d almost say too slow, but I like the build of tension and anticipation, and the solid character development. Still, by the end of the book all we’ve got is some hints and a few charged looks. On the one hand, I’d have liked a bit more romantic action; on the other hand, Alec is only 15 while Seregil – though he still looks like a young man – is fifty-something. Hopefully a few more years will pass between the next few books in the series!

Flewelling’s writing is solid, deliberate, and complex. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.