A young girl discovers hidden powers which will ultimately exile her from her home. A young boy discovers a strength he had been told he did not possess. Dark terrors mount an assault in the dark and old oaths are stretched to their limits. New alliances are forged, hidden truths are rediscovered and an entire world is at peril.
The Heir of Night is a high fantasy saga with strong echoes of The Dragonbone Chair (Tad Williams) and Assassin’s Apprentice (Robin Hobb). Our protagonist is the young Malian, only heir to the Keep of Winds and daughter to the Earl of Night. Her soon-to-be companion is the boy priest Kalan, shunned and mistrusted as are all priests, by the Derai people. A brutal assault on their home puts their friends and family in danger, tests the very mettle of the Alliance to which the Derai belong and proves an ancient evil is still abroad and seeking destruction.
The main book of The Heir of Night (~450 pages in the paperback) is split into three sections, and the whole novel covers only a short period of time (something like 10-12 days). Each of the three parts in turn covers a specific event and each has a very tight focus. While the scale of the story is epic, the individual set pieces are very personal and detailed.
The world setting is interesting and gripped me pretty quickly. I like the layers and complexity that Helen Lowe has filled the land with, and in a short time she manages to convey a detailed and rich heritage that leaves me wanting to know more. The prose is excellent and rich, easily conveying the bleak world that surrounds the Tower of Wind.
The characters that inhabit the land however, too often take second place in terms of depth to the world itself. It’s not easy to develop characters when only a few days pass in the actual story, but I would have liked to have seen earlier events have a more visible impact on the character behaviours. The characters are not shallow, but they inhabit clearly defined moulds that you will recognise quickly; the restless princess, the shunned hero-in-waiting, the dour and stern but loving father, the mysterious and magical minstrel. It may be that this helps get a grip on the story early, there are certainly a lot of characters and a lot of backstory to pick up. Having easy to recognise roles does help with that, but I would like to see the characters stretch and develop more in the second book.
I’ve hinted that this book has echoes of other fantasy books, and frankly which high fantasy books don’t riff on the ring quest or the fellowship? In The Heir of Night the influences on Helen’s world and characters early on is very clear, Hobb and Williams with additional wafts of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and maybe even a little David Gemmell. At first, I was worried those lingering memories would overpower the story, but Helen manages to lift the world and characters just high enough to break free and present her own tale. As with character depth, I’m hopeful the second book in the series can stretch that distance even further.
Overall, the story is engaging and interesting. The Wall of Night (part 1) is the strongest of the three parts. It is dramatic, engaging and triggered a real emotional response in me at the end. Storm Shadows (part 2) is more reflective and subdued, as is fitting for the middle part of any story, but picks up pace at the end and answers a few more questions about the world. For me though, Jaransor (part 3) missed the right pacing. It was too slow, almost lethargic, and needed a much greater sense of urgency and fear injected. It resolves well and furthers the story, but it just didn’t have the pace or impact the end of a book needs.
The Heir of Night is a good read, with some very interesting world concepts and a hint of much more complex things to come. It struggles to, but eventually does break free of its influences, and although the last part finishes too slowly, the first two are well paced and emotional. Well worth reading, and I am looking forward to the publication of the second novel (The Gathering of the Lost).