Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
by Stella Atrium 2/12/13
I love castle stories. What could be better than a 350-page fantasy
novel that starts with three companions on horseback carrying swords and
Radly bows crossing a frigid field to escape the bad guy or to rescue
I celebrate that there’s no end to these horse-and-castle stories, and I investigate whatever’s new. Some novels like A Quest for Heroes by Morgan Rice
are calibrated for a juvenile audience and the heroine is too young for
insights I would seek. Some stories follow the new trend of heaps of
gore and lists of knightly heraldry like The Wilding by CS Freidman.
For some stories I don’t buy the second book in the series because not
enough surprises held my attention during the first outing, like Blood of the Falcon by Court Ellyn.
I picked up Luck in the Shadows because I had enjoyed all three Bone Doll’s Twin
stories, and especially the gender-bending twist. The witch who lived
in the forest and the young magician who she trained were diverting
enough for use of magic. Though the three stories lagged in places, a
whimsical holy man arrived like a breath of fresh air to resolve some
plot difficulties. A 15-year-old girl in full armor and long sword at
the head of an army to save the empire was a bit of a stretch, but at
least she was a girl, and she had female relatives who had roles in the
plot (more than decorative).
But… I would call Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows a lighter version of The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb.
Over the past two decades, Hobb wrote four series (series-es) around
the enduring friendship between a fool with a mysterious background and
an apprentice to a wizard. There are same-sex undertones, but each
becomes the beloved to the other through their many adventures.
Flewelling’s Book I of her Nightrunner
series presents a watcher with a longer life than many, a wizard who
commands spells for shape-shifting and message bubbles, and an orphan
(why is it always an orphan?) who is a quick learner (why is he always
more gifted at picking up dark skills?). Without a girl/boy love story
to carry the reader through the MANY discussions of the heroics of
former queens, and more discussions of the dead wizards who helped the
dead queens, getting to the end was a struggle.
I don’t care about
those old queens. I have no context for those old queens. More living
female characters who have roles in the plot -- other than decorative --
Flewelling presents a bad guy (why do they always have no
redeeming value?) who pursues our watcher and apprentice, but she drops
this story line in the middle of the book in favor of describing the
needed lessons in swordplay for the apprentice (why are long
descriptions of training with swords required for fantasy writers?).
struggle in the final act means the watcher and apprentice fight on the
side of the current royal family for whom only three scenes were
spared, and vanquish a long-simmering blood feud for which only two
scenes were constructed.
the reader doesn’t feel invested in solving the problem at hand,
especially since the resolution was a matter of home invasion and a fire
contained in a single room. A comparison to Hobb’s white queen in Fool’s Fate comes to mind, wherein the queen lost her captain, her familiar, her ice castle, and her hands before her suffering ended.
bad guys in Flewelling’s story had not shown their faces again by the
end of Book I, but the homoerotic undertones were coming to light. If
there were more surprises, fewer long-winded stories about dead queens,
less description, more jeopardy, more hetero romance – then I could
overlook the disjointed plot. I doubt that I pick up Book II.