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Mythopoeic Society

a non-profit organization devoted to the study of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, the Inklings, and the genres of myth and fantasy


The Heir of Night

The Heir of Night. Helen Lowe. Book One of The Wall of Night.

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Reviewed by Sarah Beach

[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 47:10 (#339) in October 2010.]

Lowe enters the ranks of fantasy writers with a solid beginning. Although this volume is the first of a series (no indication of just how long it is to be), it manages to provide a sense of completion for at least this leg of the main character’s adventures.

Malian, daughter of the Earl of Night, his only child and heir, is far more venturesome than any of the adults around her think she ought to be. She is described as “half-grown,” but it is unclear what her exact age is: old enough to be competent in taking and planning actions, yet apparently not yet quite old enough for marriage alliances to be considered for her. This is one of several key details I wish Lowe had filled in a bit more explicitly, but only for a sense of fullness. It in no way hampers the storytelling. The story is unmistakably a “coming of age” one and Lowe does a good enough job of conveying Malian’s existence on the edge between childhood and adulthood.

I found the world and backstory for Lowe’s saga to have a very strong echo of P.C. Hodgell’s Rathillien. It’s enough to make me guess at a possible influence, but not so much as to be certain of any copying. The Derai, Malian’s people, have come into this current world of Haarth after a defeat in their long battle against the Darkswarm. But that defeat fractured the Houses of the Derai, and made them (apparently) suspicious of the very powers needed to combat the Darkswarm. For those who know Hodgell’s work, the similarity in Lowe’s world-making is strong. But I’ll give Lowe credit for making the pattern her own.

I found Malian engaging and the integration of the supernatural very smooth. The storytelling mostly flows very well, except for one tendency I found slightly annoying: Lowe chooses inopportune moments in the story to go into historical / backstory info-dumps. At one point, Malian and some others are trying to decide a course of action while being pursued by minions of the Darkswarm in the Old Keep of Night, and the characters launch into a rather leisurely discussion of history! It undercuts the tension and sense of threat at a point when the reader wants the tension to continue. The sense of urgency gets lost. However, the misplacement of exposition is pretty much the only “crime” I can level against Lowe. I was engaged by the characters and story, and am interested enough to want to know what happens next.

The Heir of Night. Helen Lowe. Book One of The Wall of Night.

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