**Please note**this review touches on events that occurred in previous books in the series – thus potential SPOILERS for the previous books.*
“You seek the entitlement for wholesale slaughter?” He added, “The benighted fools raised to arms against you will leave behind orphans who grow up to continue the next cycle of vengeful reprisal. You can’t sow a legacy of meaningful joy while you widow their mothers and sisters to suppress a misguided canon.”
In the last book of the “Wars of Light and Shadow” series that is currently available (the series concludes with the final volume “Song of the Mysteries”, to be published in 2024), author Janny Wurts gives us the rampage of religious zealots, some brutal comeuppance for scheming sorcery, and the two main characters – Arithon and Lysaer – in more mortal danger of than ever before. Yet the greatest dangers posed to Arithon and Lysaer are no longer from the curse-driven enmity of the Mistwraith’s geas.
It is powerful outside forces who imperil the so-called Spinner of Darkness, and former Lord of Light, and who seek the destruction of the two half-brothers, and endanger the entire world of Athera, in volume #10 of the series, entitled “Destiny’s Conflict.”
Separated from all his support systems, including his faithful beloved Elaira, and his loyal Caithdein, Tarens, Arithon is alone, adrift, pursued, and perhaps at his most vulnerable point as we’ve seen him in the series since “Peril’s Gate.”
Then, for a large part of the story, we find Arithon in the unique situation of being bound to a woman he has no desire to be with. After intervening to rescue the victim of what appears to be a sexual assault, Arithon ends up being snared in a loveless union with that supposed victim. In the façade of a marriage, a child is also passed off as Arithon’s.
Arithon’s gift of compassion, natural goodness and honour, and his belief in a positive destiny for the child, keep him static in the sham marriage, where he needs to be mobile and fleeing those who seek his capture and death. As a result, the unrelenting efforts to finally entrap Arithon for utterly devious purposes, finally bear fruit.
Meanwhile, Lysaer is determined to wrestle back control of the religion of the Light he started, and was the avatar of, from the sinister True Sect, and its redoubtable military leader, the fearsome Hatchet.
Later grievously wounded after a Koriani assassination attempt, in danger of succumbing to insanity, and hemmed in by other malevolent True Sect leaders, such as the Priest Supreme and Exalted Examiner, the faithful Daliana – now in disguise as Dace in order to gain Lyaser’s trust – is the only thing saving Lysaer from madness and certain death.
“The coward in him preferred not the bear what could never be reconciled. Thousands of times, over hundreds of years, the voice of self-censure condemned him: better he died than fall prey to the next wretched bout of insanity. Logic destroyed the weakness of delusion, that he had ever owned the brute will to defeat the forces that rode him.”
As I said in my review of the very first book in the series, “Curse of the Mistwraith”, the sophistication of Wurts’ characterization is truly a thing to behold. There are so many amazing, fascinating secondary characters that surround the two princes, most of whom very much have their own agendas, and are extremely grey in their perspectives and ambitions.
There some downright despicable people too, but there are also some very “good” characters, who the reader will root for. But be warned – don’t get too attached. Like GRRM, Wurts has no compunction whatsoever in making noble characters suffer or die, and the final battle scenes of the book are of the tear-jerking variety, as loveable characters fall.
Elaira, the long-time Koriathain initiate, and Arithon’s love, truly stands out in this book. She has been so long-suffering, so brave, so completely devoted to Arithon, so willing to sacrifice her self physically and emotionally for him, despite her untenable position as part of the organization determined to bring Arithon down. Over the course of the series, I have really come to appreciate her as an underrated character, and admire all her qualities, including her dry wit, and sometimes abrasiveness. Elaira will be tested like never before in “Destiny’s Conflict”.
As noted, Wurts has a stunning capacity to deliver charismatic characters beyond the two main players that we can’t get enough of. Often those characters are morally grey, or outright evil. This continues in “Destiny’s Conflict”: enter THE HATCHET!
Wow did I absolutely love this character! Blazing into the previous book, “Initiate’s Trial”, sheathed in steel mail and gauntlets, riding a steel chariot driven by a quartet of white geldings, this vicious yet brilliant dynamo, the Supreme Commander of the True Sect’s forces, is bullish, bombastic, and such an amazing character.
He’s really, really BAD news for the feal clansfolk, Arithon, and Lysaer, and you will want to pay close attention to him, during this story. He plays a MAJOR role.
Add in Davien, the renegade sorcerer, another one of my fav ambiguous characters, whose deliciously complicated and unpredictable arc I continue to be delighted with, and this book was a real character feast for me. Davien promises a lot, and he delivers. But one has to wonder, what will the price be, when he comes to collect the tab? This is someone who clearly has their own agenda, and is playing their cards close to the vest.
I adore this character, and all the potential Davien has to upset the apple-cart, in unexpected and astonishing ways.
Two of the Koriathain, Seldie Prime (Morriel) and Lirenda, have been key figures throughout the series. When we arrive at this book, Lirenda is still enslaved, and Seldie has continued her plots, that are seemingly boundless in underhandedness. These two characters also play a pivotal part in this specific book, and for all the evil they have done in the name of good, you know that a reckoning will come due at some point.
It appears that Lirenda has already received that reckoning. But what about Seldie, who has dabbled in necromancy – perhaps the ultimate sin – to hold onto power?
And, though I can’t spoil it by giving away names, the discovery of the fate of a missing character not yet seen, but referred to throughout the series, whom I’ve been extremely curious about, will also have major implications, no doubt, for the future.
A myriad of compelling themes have been part of this series, yet one particular theme stood out for me in “Destiny’s Conflict”, and that is the theme of the cost of the Law of Major Balance, and the cost of free will.
To recap, this tenant, handed down by the mythical Paravians, and which guides and constrains the Fellowship Sorcerers in the series, asserts that “no force of nature should be used without consent, or against the will of another living being.”
Prevented from direct intervention, it has seemed at times, throughout the series, for all their unlimited power, the Fellowship has been bereft of part of their agency, because of the law. Sometimes they can only be bystanders, when horrible things happen. I stopped to consider, during this book, what an immense psychological toll that must take on them, having to wait for permission before acting, to want to act, to have the power to act, but to have to stand down, time and time again.
There were times in the book that I felt the Fellowship fighting the despair of their burdens, seeming like worn-down, exhausted, and beyond ancient. Humankind seems bent on destroying themselves, despite everything the Fellowship is trying to do to protect them. You have to wonder if the Fellowship is not cracking under the strain, and wanting to give up, wondering if humankind is worth it.
As with any Wurts book, the reader can expect thrilling battles, betrayals, revenge, utter ruthlessness, political machinations, and unforgettable moments of quiet, philosophizing, and reflection.
This book is especially trying, and at times highly disturbing, with the physical pain and turmoil, and mental anguish, that Arithon and Lysaer undergo.
The climax of this book will leave you speechless, gasping and wondering, “Is this it for…???” Janny Wurts writes the best endings in fantasy, and you will never feel prepared for what she might throw at you, when she wraps up a novel. I certainly wasn’t ready for this ending. It will destroy you. I was wringing my hands in distress. Count on Wurts to do something this heart-rending, with how she wraps us this book.
And, as per usual, I will be repetitive here, and note that very single word in the book is written with purpose, and holds meaning. The exactitude, the punctiliousness with which Wurts writes, is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. The sheer beauty of the prose continues to be staggering. Wurts’ uses adjectives in ways that will astound and bedazzle. This is the best prose I’ve ever read in fantasy.
“One moment, inevitable, turned destiny’s card like the bell stroke that shattered all hope; or else, like the phoenix birthed from immolation, a spark struck in bright, helpless pain might salvage the cold course of destiny. No way to tell which ahead of the crux where possibility ended, and probability dimmed to opacity.”
This book has served to remind me, as a reader, how far I’ve come on my journey reading this series.
When I started reading it in the autumn of 2021, I was captivated by the tale of two young half-brothers. Each had distinct and opposing magical powers of Light versus Darkness, and familial traits of empathy versus justice. They were reared to be enemies, but had to work together as comrades for a greater purpose, to banish the Mistwraith. Only to be cursed for their efforts in saving the world from being covered in the Mistwraith’s blight, and turned against each other.
My, how far those two brothers have come. And look how far I’ve come, reading 10 books, to the point where I am at now in the series, finished reading the last book currently available, keyed up to read the LAST book, period.
In saying that, I can only imagine what if feels like for Wurts, with her journey as the author of this series.
I often forget my journey is paltry compared to that that Wurts, who published the first book in this series back in 1993, and that it has been undergoing a just-over-30-year journey to completion. Kudos Janny Wurts! The perseverance alone, is worthy of huge applause. But to stay the course, and compose something THIS amazing over the course of 3 decades…wow.
I cannot say enough about the immense accomplishment that this series is. Once again, it’s my favourite fantasy series, ever, and Wurts is my favourite writer, ever.
Wurts’ saga is masterful, each novel so intricately and lovingly crafted, every sentence or passage to be savoured. Each book has built upon the last, escalating towards a crescendo that I am completely confident that will be like nothing I’ve ever read before, and will be breathtaking.
I no doubt will mourn for the end, with the concluding installment coming in the next few months, but I also predict feeling immensely gratified.
jI have never anticipated ANY book, the way I am anticipating “Song of the Mysteries”, the final installment in the seminal “Wars of Light and Shadow”.
Bring it on!
Read Our Many Reviews of Janny Wurts’ Novels