I am completely captivated by the Wars of Light and Shadow series.
And if I were not quite convinced, this second book of the Alliance of Light reaffirms once again all the elements that mark for me an encompassing adult fantasy experience: gorgeous writing, rounded, consistent characters, solid world-building, clashes and blood (oh yes), plots and counterplots, political intrigue, calculated endgames, pleasing unpredictability, witty dialogues, though-provoking themes and a cartload of entertainment. The ending, with all of its tight wrap up of all of the strings and characters, with the humor and the double-cross twists of fate I absolutely cherish in the series as usual caught me unawares, but with the following book, Peril's Gate, timely at hand.
The key to this part of the story is the title, Grand Conspiracy: the book’s thriving, intertwining coils of conspiracy immerse the reader, along with all the characters involved (ever developing, ever intense in their flawed, passionate and human way) in a complicated and politically changing situation, where the established boundaries of right and wrong blur, yesterday’s enemies become today’s allies and vice-versa, ambivalence rules and the main players’ known and hidden agendas come to fruition or shift in failure with interdependent resolution. If revelations and conspiracies –and the implications beneath- take the main stage, the book is far from lacking in hammering action. The bedlam of the last chapters is priceless with its superb mix of humor and tragedy, and the mid-book focus on the s’Brydion strategies immersive and wily fast-paced.
"Two accursed princes hold the world’s fate between them".
Arithon keeps sailing the blue-waters seeking the vanished Paravians and finds his only solace in the maturing powers of his art. “Unable to lie for convenience” or “to break from the sound tenets of his character”, he heavily relies on his “sharp penchant for cleverness” to avoid disaster. Aided by Dakar, the clanborn and his secretive network of allies, he holds on his integrity struggling to maintain his sanity against the compulsion of the Mistwraith’s hate-geas. Yet his stolen reprieve may draw to a close, threatened by the Koriani plotting to exploit “his royal-born tie to compassion” to bring about his downfall and the Alliance, weaving its “growing tapestry of power linking cities east to west on the continent”, exacerbating the crusade against darkness and sorcery.
Lysaer, "dangerous beyond compare since no one alive can guess his preferred agenda", casts his net wider claiming divine inspiration and carefully tends his inner circle of powerful advisers. All exalted leadership and cool calculation, ever the consummate politician, he bides his time answering the nurtured fear of the masses with his “war-bent call to religion” and “steering Alliance interests to bind terrified trade guilds into a strangling dependency”. However, when the dictates of “cold bullion” and unexpected setbacks threaten mire his strategy “to key the next stage of his empire”, not only Lysaer keeps rallying mage talent to his cause, but he starts to court the advantages of the very same dark practices he pledged to uproot…
The factions and individuals involved (knowingly or not) in the feud between the royal half-brothers are driven by different interests and loyalties which may logically change over time, sport very subjective moral grounds, and play the game with their own sets of rules, often to the result of avalanching consequences for the world of Athera.
The Koriani Prime enchantress Morriel, nearing the end of her prolonged life, who patiently conspires and deftly sets her long-range intent to thwart the Fellowship authority. Lirenda, all citybred elegance and disowned groomed successor to the pinnacle of Koriani power, driven by blind ambition and conflicting passions, obsessed and compelled to capture Arithon for the purpose of reinstatement and personal vengeance. Elaira, oath-bound to Koriani obedience, yet inseparably linked to the Prince of Rathain, shining example of willpower and humility. Fionn Areth, plagued by a preordained fate and unwary pawn of a greater scheme. The charter law-abiding clans, bane of the town trade guilds, convenient scapegoats relentlessly hunted by Alliance soldiers and fleeing to neutral Havish or hiding in order to survive. The ever-present threat of the Mistwraith from the dead planet of Marak and the Rockfell prison. The s’Brydion family of Alestron, fiercely protective of its freedom and cunningly refusing to be anyone’s game piece. Cerebeld, First High Priest to the Prince of the Light, and the growing number of his gifted collaborators, whose born talents are drawn to Lysaer’s cause under the full awareness of his s’Ahelas farsight. The Fellowship Sorcerers, bound “to ensure Paravian survival no matter the cost of the sacrifice” and whose reserves are stretched painfully thin, have “no license to use power to influence mortal destinies” and “can act only by the Law of the Major Balance, inside a prescribed set of limits”, which leave them and their charges in a most precarious position.
One of the aspects I love of this series is how carefully the details are woven in the “world's broadscale tapestry of events”. Grand Conspiracy shows again deep and careful planning; particularly the denouement is testimony of the incredible craft of Janny Wurts, who manages to balance all the layers and levels of the story and to offer timely answers to the questions of the reader; what’s more, with each title in the series the delivery builds tighter and faster. She never fails to impress with her rare gift for words, delightful in humour, descriptions, dialogue and action