A world, a wall, a hero, a sword, a helm and a shattered shield. The stuff of epic fantasy in a truly traditional style. But is it? Helen Lowe’s Wall of Night series comprising of Heir of Night, The Gathering of the Lost and the latest instalment, Daughter of Blood have all the necessary ingredients but woven into a wonderfully complex and surprising tapestry of characters and events. The Derai are a race who have settled on the world of Haarth, after an inter-planetary struggle with their traditional enemy, the Swarm. The nine houses of the Derai hold the Swarm back by guarding the Wall of Night and thereby protecting the rest of the planet and its indigenous population from it. And of course there is a prophecy about a hero who will unite the Derai and ultimately destroy the Swarm.
LL: The story has so many facets to it that you need to read it over and over again.
PS: But the good thing is that you don’t get bored of doing that. The complexity keeps you engaged. I am amazed at how Helen Lowe has managed so many layers in the books. And yet it is not just the story but also the language and descriptions which are almost lyrical.
LL: At first glance it may seem like a typical good versus evil story but after a while you start questioning whether there is any such thing as evil and that ultimately it is a question of survival and the hard decisions you need to take.
PS: But the heroes stay true to their nature. What I really liked about the books is that so many of the warriors and heroes, including the protagonist, Malian, are women and that Derai society, although bigoted in other ways, doesn’t prescribe separate roles for women.
LL: The Commander of the House of Night is one of the coolest characters ever written and she is a woman.
PS: So is the legendary hero with the unpronounceable name, who, though dead, keeps popping in to talk to Malian once in a while. It is her helm, sword and shield which Malian must find in order to fight the Swarm effectively.
LL: I know it is fashionable to compare books with other more popular series but I think it is unfair to compare Wall of Night with Game of Thrones as some people have done. Despite the presence of so many characters in GRR Martin’s book, Helen Lowe has written a more subtle and surprising series which isn’t just about sudden deaths and blood and gore.
PS: It truly is epic storytelling and doesn’t look to scandals and shocks to hold up the reader’s interest.
LL: Although there is going to be one more book in the series, at no time in the Daughter of Blood does the reader feel the middle book or penultimate book syndrome. At all times the book retains the pace and continues to hold interest.
PS: I just wish there was more of Malian in the third book. Although there are so many things that have been explained, in the explaining, the reader has been left with more questions. That, I suppose, is the true mark of a gripping series but I do not like the idea of waiting to find out.
LL: I don’t know if I can wait for another two years for The Chaos Gate to be published. I don’t think I am going to ever again start an ongoing series. It is not good for my health. I am so glad I read Lord of the Rings when all three books had been published!
So here are the questions we have to live with while waiting for the last book (spoiler alert)
1. Who named Malian?
2. Is the next book going to jump seven years so that Faro can come back and claim his inheritance?
3. There is some mystery behind Asantir, what is it? You can’t be so cool and just be a supporting character.
4. Is the shield not going to be remade?
5. Can Raven/Aravenor just be a supporting character?
6. Is Taly really Kalan’s sister?
7. Why does Tirael feel an affinity with Kalan?
8. Will Kalan manage to free Myrathis?
9. What form will the Golden Fire take?
10. What role will the rest of Haarth play?
11. Will the Heralds join the fight again?
12. We really, really hope that Malian and Kalan survive.
What strikes the reader through the books is Helen Lowe’s ability to simply and yet appealingly describe the natural world: the countryside, the woodlands, the hoot of the owl, the march of the stars across the night sky, the song of the earth. We wondered if that is because she is from New Zealand and therefore in some ways more connected with nature. Had she lived in Bangalore it is more likely she would have ended up describing traffic, traffic, noise and pollution.
As is evident, we are quite caught up in the series. Most fantasy these days depends on blood and gore and sex in order to stand out but Helen Lowe has written a series about people who, despite being flawed, want to do the right thing. In a world where there is power and maybe even the planet is sentient, the true magic comes from the dignity displayed by the characters who are willing to live and act for a larger purpose.