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“What is a flaw but a human mistake, or an ignorance that sees without options?” 

**Please note**this review touches on events that occurred in previous books in the series – thus potential SPOILERS for the previous books.*

Every series has a crucial book, a game-changer, an installment that will turn that series a certain direction. Rest assured, “Peril’s Gate”, the sixth book of the series, is THAT book for the seminal “Wars of Light and Shadow” series.

This book is an adrenaline-filled, suspenseful, chase through Athera, as Lysaer’s Alliance of Light forces inexorably close in on their quarry: Arithon, so-called Master of Shadow.

On the run from Lysear’s relentless, geas-driven pursuit, with his young, stubborn, and misguided doppelganger, Fionn Areth, and his erstwhile sidekick, Dakar the Mad Prophet, Arithon must leave his companions for their own safety, and try to escape alone, obtaining assistance from his feal clan allies such as the loyal Earl Jieret, along the way.

Wounded, feverish, delirious, pushed to the brink of his physical and emotional limits, Arithon desperately strives to find a way to avoid catastrophe, as all seems hopeless, and his capture and destruction at the hands of his half-brother Lysaer, seems inevitable.

The clansmen, sworn to Arithon, will make incredible, unthinkable sacrifices to ensure their Crown Prince has a chance for survival. Yet will all their efforts be in vain?

Meanwhile, the thoughtless plots of the Koriathain to ensnare Arithon have thrown Athera out of balance. To avoid chaos, the Fellowship Sorcerers must try to put things right.

But now, one long lost to the Fellowship has returned. But will this return be a bane or a benefit, as Davien, a complete wildcard on the playing field of destiny, enters the mix, and commences his plots. Whose side, if any, is Davien on, and what’s his true game? Or is he simply a force of sheer chaos?

Meanwhile, in his zealotry to capture and kill his rival, Lysaer has fallen into the use of dark powers. He is estranged from his wife, Ellaine, and his son and heir Kevor is finding his own path to the s’Ilessid justice imbued within him, that may be diverging from that of Lysaer’s.

Brilliant characterization is a staple of Wurts’ books, and “Peril’s Gate” is no different. For me, this book is where Sulfin Evend emerges in a huge way, from side note to becoming one of the most important players. He is not only a pivotal character, but one of my favourite characters in the entire “Wars of Light and Shadow”.

He bursts onto the scene, after seeming to only be a footnote in history regarding the grimward, to being one of the most central figures in Wurts’ epic saga. His tale of sacrifice, duty, unflinching fealty to Lysaer, is one of the most compelling storylines of the series.

Kevor also stands out in this book. His grace, intelligence, and natural gifts make him the perfect prince, and a much better future Prince of Avenor than his father. His shocking arc really threw me for a loop, but was ultimately very satisfying.

“Responsible recognition hard followed, that his mount deserved better respect. Worse than that, if he indulged his whim, somebody else’s reliable reputation must bear the inflexible consequence. Soon enough, one of his honour guard must spur his mount to overtake, understanding a boy’s natural yearning for space, and apologetic for the duty his oath had lifesworn him to follow.”

Yet, this is really the book where Arithon’s character undergoes the most evolution so far in the series. By now, it is clear he’s the hero of the saga, but Janny truly puts her hero through turmoil of every facet – both physical and emotional – in this book. And because of it, his nobility shines through.

“For hours, he saw faces, adrift in congealed blood: the dead cut down by his strategies at Tal Quorin, Vastmark, and the Havens. Hands plucked at him, and whispers lamented the cut threads of lost lives. The haunts shed ghost tears, and multiplied into their legions of sad widows and fatherless children. Dead sailhands came, weed clad, out of the silted deeps of Mindrel Bay. They sat at his side, weeping glittering brine and pointing bone fingers in eyeless remonstrance. Arithon addressed their silent condemnation, crying aloud for their pain. He left none of their questions unanswered, though his heart held no power to console them, nor had he the coin to purchase his own absolution. Unlike his half-brother Lysaer, he claimed no grand principle; no moral truth; no lofty reason to account for the slaughter spun by Desh-thiere’s curse. His apologies rang flat, and the tides of remorse ran in scouring agony straight through him.”

What happens to Arithon in the Kewar Tunnel is one of the most poignant journeys I have ever read in fiction.

The Tunnel is Davien’s lair, but also part of the tunnel is a labyrinth, designed as a ritualistic trial designed for the High Kings.

This trial is meant to test a ruler’s capacity for emotional intelligence, wisdom, self-assessment, and ultimately the ability to forgive oneself. The implication seems to be that a wise ruler must be able to accept and forgive their own flaws, in order to be able to do the same in those whom they rule over.

Critically, Arithon’s ancestor, Kamridian s’Ffalenn, failed this trial, and as a result, perished.

What special qualities could Arithon possess, that Kamridian – noted to be quintessential High King – lacked, that could help him survive such a rite of passage?

Comparing Arithon’s troubles with that of his nemesis, Lyaser is no less imperiled in his own way.

We see more and more moments of self-doubt exposed from Lysaer, when he is more private moments with Sulfin, and more grappling with the justifications of his actions, than we ever saw in earlier books, where his stanch resolve in what he was doing for the greater good, overruled any possible lack of self-confidence.

Lysaer has few friends save the ever-faithful Sulfin, but many sycophants and sinister characters surrounding him who hope to use Lysaer for their own deplorable schemes.

Lysaer, much more isolated now, having pushed most of those who truly care about him away, seems utterly lost to the Mistwraith’s curse, his only true purpose the destruction of Arithon.

Is it too late for redemption for Lysaer? And, even if redemption is offered, will he take it?

Arithon’s journey here will be one of transcendence, and if he can survive it, true fulfillment. Yet it will also be acutely distressing, test his mettle to the core, and put his very sanity in jeopardy.

I could write all day about the themes Wurts presents in her series, but the one that stood out in “Peril’s Gate” was that of absolution, and self-forgiveness. Wurts presents that negative emotions such as guilt, self-pity truly are an obstruction to self-discovery and enlightenment, as evidenced by what Arithon endures in the novel.

Wurts shows us that self-realization can only be achieved once we free ourselves of the shackles of remorse and regret, and move past those feelings to accept our own frailties, imitations, errors, and embrace our potential for overcoming those obstacles, and achieving true success.

Moreover, we should be willing and able and open to sharing our vulnerabilities with those we love and trust, for they can assist us with forgiving ourselves, and seeing the best in our own abilities. It is a very powerful message that really resonated with me.

Wurts’ stunning worldbuilding has long been apparent, from the first few passages of the series, but once the reader reaches this book, the true scope becomes more apparent. Wurts has chosen to reveal only parts of her immense universe, bit by bit, so as not to overwhelm the reader, and I support that decision.

Now, six books in, the curtain is slowly being peeled back, some of the mysteries are coming a bit more into the light, our awareness is increased, understanding sharpened, the many layers of nuance are becoming more clear.

In particular, the Paravian mysteries are coming to the forefront, and while we are still very much in the dark when it comes to the entire picture of these fascinating creatures, and all that they signify, our viewpoint about them is deepening and intensifying, and – like the Clanborn – we are becoming more able to handle the exposure.

The reader will slowly begin to comprehend that the delicate Compact that governs human existence on Athera is a fragile, wondrous, and very dangerous thing.

So much lies beyond the pale, that until more aspects of the world are disclosed by the author, we too as readers, like the humans in the book, are still mostly blind and dumb to the ramifications of the actions of the characters in the novel, and what is truly at stake when it comes to the Compact, as previous assumptions are destroyed, previous notions stripped, and more pieces of the big puzzle fall into place.

This is the point in the series where so much of the foreshadowing and subtle things that Wurts put into motion in earlier books gets paid off. And the reader will begin to see how worthwhile it all was.

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 takes things to another level, though.

Candidly, I was not prepared for the depth of losses and despair, juxtaposed with the beauty and hopefulness of many of the passages. It left me completely emotionally bereft, and it took me some time to recover from this book.

Be warned, it will likely take its toll on your psyche as well. But in the end, the trip will be completely worth it.

As per all of her books, Wurts’ writing will leave you breathless. Every single word 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.

Luxuriant, so verdant with artistry, splendour, and magnificence, no one writes like Janny Wurts.
I cannot help but include a sample of that astounding writing, one of my favourite passages from the book, below:

“Gloom enfolded the hammer-beamed chamber beyond. The bow windows with their breathtaking view of the bay were curtained in night-colored velvet. Nicked to gold by the flame of beeswax candles, velvet upholstery and damascened silk braid glinted from corners and lover’s nooks. The furnishings were costly southern imports of Vhalzein lacquer and ebony. Carved tables and chairs wore graceful wreaths and the beardless faces of dryads. The carpets, with their twisted fringe borders, were the masterworks of skilled Morvain craftsmen. Glass and silver candlestands showed Paravian workmanship, eight centuries old, and exquisitely rare.”

If you’ve read this far in “Wars of Light and Shadow”, you are no doubt, by now, convinced that Wurts is one of the greatest fantasy authors of the past fifty years, on par with Jordan, Martin, Le Guin, Hobb, Erikson and the like. “Peril’s Gate” will only serve to cement that opinion of Wurts – it certainly has for me.

“Wars of Light and Shadow” is also my favourite fantasy series of all-time, and thus far, “Peril’s Gate” is my favourite book in that series, and is the true tipping point in the soon-to-be 11-book masterpiece.

Read Peril’s Gate by Janny Wurts

Read Peril’s Gate

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