BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Five years after the events of The Heir of Night, intrigue and machinations of the Swarm, and others, catch Malian and her friends / allies in the South.
PROS: All the best Epic Fantasy elements present; strong character-driven story, high adventure and magic, beautiful prose.
CONS: The pace of the novel in Malian and Kalan’s story is problematic. Some aspects of the intervening years are not entirely clear. The map given needs work.
BOTTOM LINE: A strong second entry to the series that avoids most of the pitfalls of middle series novels.
Five years after Malian of Night and Kalan fled from the Wall in search of fulfilling a prophecy to save the Derai and the rest of the world, the action focuses down to the lands of the River. The heralds Jehane Mor and Tarathan stumble into unexpected danger and bloodshed in the city of Ij. Soon, though, the danger spreads to other locations in the South, and threatens Malian and Kalan, who are very different following people five years later.
The Gathering of the Lost, second in the Wall of Night from Helen Lowe, has many similar strengths to those in the first novel, The Heir of Night (see my SF Signal review). The poetic beauty of the writing is still in evidence and used to good effect, be it describing a night of hell in the city of Ij or a tournament combat. Also fleshed out and expanded is the rich world of Malian and Kalan. Where the first novel focused almost exclusively on the Wall, this novel does a lot of heavy lifting in worldbuilding. From the cities of the River to a marcher province to a grand tourney, the author brings a wide swath of new places and situations.
In addition to the expansion of the world, we see a whole suite of new characters come to the table. From Damosels, noble ladies, of Normarch, to mysterious emissaries from an even more southern land, Lowe amps things up with a fascinating and well formed cast of additional characters all of whom have agendas, plans, and hopes of their own. The set-piece locations are much more cosmopolitan than the Wall, and so we get a variety of cultures and ideas in collision. Most unexpected was the addition of members of the Swarm as both characters and antagonists. To say more of the character development would be extremely spoilery, and so I will refrain from divulging any further. Suffice it to say that the character’s motivations are the primary driver of the story, just as in the book’s predecessor.
And in general, Lowe brings more adventure and adventurous situations in this book versus the previous installment. The action scenes, while not bloody or gore filled, are well described and handled. We get more and new magics, keeping the High fantasy aspects of Haarth firmly in good stead. The book is significantly longer and more complex than its predecessor. And there are more surprises and twists and turns.
The novel does have a couple of flaws for me, however. Time jumps can be tricky things, and some aspects of the time jump are handled less deftly than others. We get a decent sense of the five years that have passed since the events of Heir of Night. The reader gets a good handle on those years, even if they have to piece together what Malian has gone through. Kalan is a much thornier issue. His character arc is nowhere near as clearly and cleanly defined, and his role in the South is much murkier. I never got the full sense of how he had gotten to the point where we meet him in the narrative.
The other thing that bothered me about the book was that the story is very much a digression from the main plot. The plot of the novel, and the events in it are entertaining and important, but I always got the sense that this was a case where this book mushroomed into existence where the author’s original intention was to elide over some of these events. I think things could have been rejiggered in time and space to make this flow better in the overall character narrative.
Despite these reservations, Lowe is clearly forging her place as an epic fantasist to pay attention to and read. I sank my teeth into this and read it in a time that belies its length, and was never bored or idle. Readers of The Heir of Night will be satisfied with this second volume, and others should start there and discover the world of Haarth and its characters for themselves.