Opening notes, this novella can only be purchased directly from the author’s website https://www.paravia.com/JannyWurts/bo…
**Important**the author, Janny Wurts, strongly recommends that this story is to be best enjoyed (particularly to avoid spoilers) after one has read the novel “Stormed Fortress”, which is book 8 in the “Wars of Light and Shadow”.
Please peruse the author’s website for suggested reading order of the novellas, in relation to the different arcs in the “Wars of Light and Shadow”.
Davien, nicknamed “the Betrayer” is perhaps one of the most controversial figures in “the Wars of Light and Shadow”. The “renegade” Fellowship of Seven Sorcerer, is condemned by many as instigating mass murder, political upheaval, and causing the downfall of the High Kings of Athera.
But is Davien’s reputation well-earned? Is he truly a blackguard? Or merely a man of misunderstood intentions?
When a revered and powerful seeress summons Davien to help battle a sinister cult of necromancers, what will Davien do? And at what cost will he attempt to thwart the dark plot that is brewing?
Meanwhile, townborn smuggler Toler Sen Beckit is down on his luck. He’s betrayed his smuggling cohorts, and they’ve paid him back by getting him thrown into the gaols at Riverton.
Toler is also grieving the loss of his dear sister Enna, who disappeared since childhood, potentially lured into a life of service to the Koriani Enchantresses. Though Toler never knows for certain what really happened to Enna.
Facing ten years hard labour for his sentence, Toler has few options. But one is presented to him when Davien frees him from jail.
“Cold sober, he might have remembered the warning: no one who crossed paths with one of the Seven survived the experience unchanged.”
Especially when the one crossing paths with is Davien, who is in bed with a Dragon – most feared of all Athera’s creatures – concealing things from his Fellowship comrades, and courting disaster on the scale of the complete annihilation of humankind.
But to outwit rival Koriani sorceresses, and stay a step ahead of the dangerous necromancers, sacrifices must be made.
A brilliant addition to the iconic “Wars of Light and Shadow” main series, while most the short story “Black Bargain” ‘s narrative focuses on the dangerous but critical mission of clever townborn smuggler Toler, Davien is still the main character of this short story.
Perhaps one of the most gifted and cerebral of the Fellowship Sorcerers, Damien is an absolutely fascinating character. When reading the main series, a reader may find that, at the best of times, there is this extreme dichotomy to the motivations, decisions, and results of the Fellowship’s plans.
On numerous occasions, throughout “Wars of Light and Shadow”, what the Fellowship does can seem callous, horrific, and calculating, while still being utterly noble, altruistic, and compassionate. That’s because the Fellowship, sorcerers of unimaginable power and responsibility, are playing a game on a HUGE stage, and their actions (or inactions) do not hinge on the life of a single person, or even a race of people. They are juggling with an enormity of consequences that dwarf comprehension, and they do whatever they must to cause the least amount of harm, to the greatest amount of beings.
Bound to a personal code of non-interference, and the Law of Major Balance (“no force of nature should be used without consent, or against the will of another living being”), responsible for terms and conditions of settlement of humankind on Athera that ensure survival of the mystical Paravian immortals (the agreement setting out these terms is called the “Compact”) the Fellowship must make seemingly impossible choices, the weight of which would stymie lesser beings.
No sorcerer, perhaps, exemplifies this more than Davien. A maverick, an “outside-the-box” thinker by nature, imagine how the actions of someone predisposed to that kind of reasoning, combined with the Fellowship mandate, might appear to observers? It’s obvious there’s much more behind why Davien does what he does than meets the eye.
Thus, the theme of “the end justifying the means” plays most heavily here, in this short story. The reader might likely be asking themselves, after reading “Black Bargain”, “what decision causes the least amount of harm, and is there any other way than to do bad, in order to ultimately do good?” I know those questions kept running through my mind as the events of this poignant, incredible short story unfolded.
30-page short story like “Black Bargain”, or 600-page novel, Wurts never fails to provide the reader with an incredible sense of setting, time, place in history, perspective, and fabulous worldbuilding. Besides insights into the ruthless Koriani enchantresses (especially the haughty and calculating Morriel Prime), their inner workings, and important talismans like the Great Waystone (and how it wound up in the hands of the Koriani’s enemies), the sinister Gray Kravolir cult, the mysterious Biedar tribes, and the ominous political workings in Hanshire that seed future dark dealings explored in the main series, the gem of the worldbuilding in “Black Bargain” is the appearance of the great Dragon, Seshkrozchiel!
“Not a small, carnivorous wyvern, but a great drake, fire-breathing, eighty-five spans of shimmering, scaled might, from armoured crest to ebony tale spikes. Before her mailed talons, the Sorcerer seemed like a toothpick, spiked upright while the massive wyrm, snaked around him, her wide golden eye and slit pupil a cloth yard across, terrifying as staring into the abyss.”
The magnificent dragons (drakes) who have the power of dream creation (or destruction), are perhaps the most powerful and ancient of beings we are treated to in Wurts’ universe. Wild, untamed, mercurial, and whose dreams can escape their control, the dragons are great wildcards in terms of the fate of Athera. Learning more about these fantastic beings who inhabit volcanic rock, whose foreclaws can grow as tall as a human, and whose fire can level cities to the ground, was incredible, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the main series!
And, naturally, in terms of writing style, “Black Bargain” is replete with the resplendent, lush, and transcendent prose we have become accustomed to in a Janny Wurts book.
“Black Bargain” is a marvellous, exceptionally well-written tale of a renegade sorcerer’s choices, ponderous, appalling decisions made out of necessity, inauspicious magic, disturbing back-room dealings, a spy planted in the midst, the fate of humankind riding in the balance, and yes, dragons!
To accentuate your reading of Janny Wurts “Wars of Light and Shadow”, “Black Bargain” is a
MUST-read – but again, ONLY after completing “Stormed Fortress”.