Review of Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

Part of the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge

Luck in the Shadows was published waaaay back in ye olde 1996, the first volume in the Nightrunner series.  The sixth and most recent book, Casket of Souls, came out in 2012.  I’ve spent the last two weeks gulping down these books in a delirious frenzy.  I’m just starting #5, and also starting to dread having to wait for book #7.

It’s not easy for me to find fantasy series that have the emotional depth of a Robin Hobb trilogy or the intrigue and suspense of the Game of Thrones epic.  Granted, Luck in the Shadows is not as sophisticated as either, but Flewelling progresses wonderfully through her next Nightrunner novels, in both her world-building and in the passionate portrayals of her characters.  There are some minor flaws that I think an editor should have smoothed over, such as clunky shifts in point of view, but for the most part, I didn’t care.

This isn’t merely an adventure novel about nobleman-spy-thief-faie Seregil of Rhiminee and his protege Alec of Kerry.  It’s not just a sword and sorcery tale.  Yes, we’ve got women warriors, wizards, court politics, and archery!  We’ve got secret passageways and dungeons, spells and disguises, minstrels and magic!  But Flewelling didn’t just load up a grab bag of fantasy tropes, shake it up and pop it.  Oh no.  There is story arc and character depth here that unfolds delicately and slowly in this first novel, and truly blooms in the next volumes.

Looking back over the book, it’s amazing how much happens.  Seregil and Alec meet as dungeon prisoners condemned to death.  After they escape, the wily and roguish Seregil takes young Alec under his wing and teaches him the ways of a nightrunner – which pretty much involves spying, housebreaking, singing in pubs and swordfighting, mostly for the greater purpose of aiding the wizards and royals of Skala.  But war is brewing between old enemies Skala and Plenimar, and of course the two men will be caught up in it, and when Seregil becomes the unwitting victim of an evil sorcerer’s dark magic, it’s up to the innocent but brave Alec to save him.

Maybe this all sounds mildly fun, but kind of trite and run-of-the-mill.  It could have been a letdown, were it not for the gleeful, derring-do action balanced with dark necromantic horrors – sort of like Robin Hood meets Lord of the Rings.

The real joy of the book – and the reason I love this series so much – is the relationship between Seregil and Alec.  Seregil is an absolute gem (yes, it’s him on the bookcover rocking that awesome mullet), and Flewelling’s skill in revealing his identity and his layers of complexity with wit, emotion, realistic dialogue and internal conflict is pure bittersweet delight, especially as she portrays the growing bond between him and Alec.  As much as Seregil loves the excitement of living as a master of many disguises – and the decadence of a good bath – his past and his future are fraught with perilous journeys and dangerous secrets.  Good thing Alec has the courage, curiosity and loyalty – as well as his own surprise backstory – to stick around.  I don’t think I’ve ever adored a fictional pair as much as these two.  Luck in the Shadows had me hooked, Stalking Darkness (numbah 2) broke my heart, and by book 3 (Traitor’s Moon), I was a goner.

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