The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe
Published by Orbit UK, March 2011.
ISBN: 978 0 35650 000 3
Review by Mark Yon
Out at the garrison overlooking the Wall of Night, the House of Night is attacked and its inhabitants slaughtered by a Raptor of Darkness. Our hero and heroine of this tale – Malian, the teenage heiress being groomed to inherit the House of Night, and Kalan, her male Temple trainee friend, escape the massacre and find themselves hunted by the Swarm of Dark. In doing so, Malian and Kalan both find they have magical powers. A mystery assistant from the Derai’s past comes to their aid:
“First you must come into the heart of my power,” the voice replied, “so I have some hope of protecting you, while you may draw on my strength. It is imperative that we work together, for you are young and untrained and I am weaker than I used to be. But together, and with the boy’s help, we may do what needs to be done.”
Also to Malian’s assistance comes Nhairin, a seasoned female steward, a sort’ve Gurney Halleck to our Paul Muad’dib-like heroine. Her task, with Asantir, the Honor Guard Captain, is to find Malian and protect her from the evil monsters that wield magic and who seem to be determined to kill her. Asantir and Nhairin are sent by Malian’s father, Earl Tasarion, to retrieve her. With the help of heralds Jehane Mor and Tarathan of Ar, they manage to get the two young protagonists guided back to the safety of the Old Keep.
This is not without a change, however. What Malian and Kalan’s newly discovered powers allow them to do is travel whilst in a dream state between the physical world and the metaphysical plane. Whilst in the metaphysical realm they find both the presence of old warriors such as Yorindesarinen and old adversaries to the House of Night and the Derai Alliance.
There is, as you might expect, a lot at stake here, wrapped up in portents of doom. Earl Tasarion’s sister, the witch-like priestess Korriya, foretells of prophecies and predicts that harm will befall the family and the House. The Earl’s consort, the Queen of Winter, Rowan Birchwood, stands as an outsider amongst the Derai from the Winter Kingdom but is secretly part of the complex conflict herein.
And as the oldest House in the Derai Alliance, the old saying goes, ‘If Night falls, all fall.’
The last half of the book deals with Malian and Kalan embarking on a quest to obtain objects of future significance, both having being given tokens of power to do so, whilst attempting to survive Darkswarm attacks. Towards the end it all becomes dream-like and there’s a lot of resolution in the final chapters and a lot left uncertain ready for the next tale.
This is not a debut work, but the writer’s first adult Fantasy novel. An important point that, and one that I didn’t know until after reading the novel, but helped me make more sense of the style of the tale. Whilst the audience being targeted may be ’adult’, to me it felt more like a novel for young adults with adult overtones: not necessarily a bad thing, and in this regard much, much better than the last novel I read that tried to do the same (Left Hand of God, I’m thinking of you.) When we reduce Heir of Night to bare plot at its simplest, this becomes a little more obvious.
For example, we have teenage protagonists clearly destined for greater things, whose magical powers appear in order to fulfil their destiny and enable revenge for the massacre of their people. There’s nasty enemies wielding magic for evil ends. All good genre stuff, if perhaps a little too close to the cliché of ‘fatherless farm boy (or in this case, motherless child of aristocracy) who becomes a great King (Earl) and goes on a quest to save the World from destruction by great evil’.
There’s also that movement between different worlds, something also seen recently in Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic , an ancient skill, once used now seemingly lost to most Derai. This allows lots of foretelling and dream-sequences, which create tension or annoyance depending upon your point of view.
Despite this, lest that note of caution put you off, there is a lot here to like. The magic’s done well, in that ‘for every action there is a price to pay’ way. The places of darkness and secret are quite atmospheric. And the fight scenes are both exciting and well written. Asantir’s elite troop of soldiers is reminiscent of James Barclay’s Raven, though not perhaps quite as violent.
Interestingly, there are hints that this story may not be as clear-cut Fantasy as the tropes (or my summary above) suggest, with a couple of nods to Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer/ Urth, perhaps.
If you can get round the response that there’s a lot here that we’ve met before – I kept feeling that the book wanted to be a lighter version of A Game of Thrones or The Dragonbone Chair very badly – it’s a good, solid read that harkens back to the High Fantasy template that we’ve seen less of, of late. No profanity but a tale where honour, loyalty and sacrifice are paramount. Not particularly new but pleasingly well done.
Book Two, The Gathering of the Lost, is due October 2011.
Extract here: http://www.orbitbooks.net/the-heir-of-night-extract/
Mark Yon, January/February 2011.