The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts. ★★★
Curse of the Mistwraith is the first book in a long epic fantasy series. While it’s been quite a while since I’ve read Wheel of Time, Curse of the Mistwraith had a similar feel.
There were definitely things I liked about The Curse of the Mistwraith, but there were also things I didn’t like. I feel like some of the problems I had with it though were problems fairly common to the epic fantasy genre, and other readers may have more tolerance for them.
The Curse of the Mistwraith is about a cursed world covered in mist (FYI this was written way before Sanderson’s Mistborn). A prophecy foretells that a prince of the right lineage with the right powers will be able to lift the curse. Unfortunately, the powers are divided between two princes – half brothers, separated by a generations long blood feud.
The brothers, Arithon and Lysaer, have powers over shadows and light respectively. At the beginning at least, they were both fairly likable and interesting, although Arithon is prone to aghast. I mean, he wasn’t as bad as Fitz from Robin Hobb’s books, but he was still very much into bemoaning his fate and looking tragic.
From the beginning, it is obvious that there is going to be major conflict between the two brothers. However… I don’t think this was carried out well. Spoiler warning, it hinged largely on a case of magical possession.
World building wise, there was some interesting ideas going on. After the world was first cursed, there was a rebellion and the royalty was toppled. Now, five hundred years later, there is a divide between the townspeople and the clansmen, who are descendants of the nobility which fled into the hills to escape the rebellion. I found this idea and conflict fascinating, and it’s definitely one of the better points of the novel.
However, the return of the monarchy after five hundred years is bound to be an issue. The sorcerers who arrange this seem to expect people to welcome the heirs with open arms? And strangely enough, most of them do. The only exception is the merchant class who’d taken up the reins of power in the absence of the royalty. Unfortunately the merchants mainly fell into the “fat, greedy merchant” trope and so the book missed an excellent topic to explore.
I would not suggest The Curse of the Mistwraith for someone looking for female characters. There’s a few – one major (Elaria, an enchantress) and a handful of minor, but in general there just aren’t many.
Speaking of this, there’s a spoiler at the end that I want to talk about. So there’s a big battle, and one side finds the other’s women and girls and rapes them before killing them. Okay, I hear you say, this is “realistic” for a battle scene. But in light of all the recent discussion spurred by that Game of Thrones episode, I think I need to talk about it, especially how the scene felt like it was included primarily for the characterization of the men. One of the characters on the side doing the killing eventually orders that his troops stop raping the women and just kill them, which I guess is supposed to make him more sympathetic? Because while he’ll have babies killed, he draws the line at rape. Also there’s a boy who sort of mystically “sees” as it happens his mother and young sisters being killed (and one of the girls – twelve at oldest – being raped before hand). I sincerely hope this was not to provide a motivation for his revenge or some such.
I’d recommend The Curse of the Mistwraith for someone looking for a fairly classical epic fantasy series.