Luck in the Shadows, by Lynn Flewelling (pub. 1996)
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This is the first book of the Nightrunner series. I've read the 2nd and 3rd books, but I'm not sure when I might get around to reviewing them. Anyway, I think they're all brilliant. This here is a review I wrote some years ago for The Templeton Gate. I believe it was the first book review I ever wrote, and I reckon I did an inadequate job of it. But if I ever do get around to writing reviews of the other books in the series (and by now there are more that I haven't read yet), I'd probably want to reread them before writing reviews of them or reading the new books. Maybe I could rewrite this review, and if not, maybe subsequent reviews would make up for this one. Or maybe this one's fine, I dunno. I feel like I said too much here, but I also left out a great deal...
In Luck in the Shadows, we meet 16-year-old Alec of Kerry, in the dungeon of Lord Asengai. He is to be sold as a slave, until he is rescued by another prisoner, a bard called Rolan Silverleaf. Rolan had been arrested as a spy, which of course he denied. After they escape, Rolan informs Alec that his name is actually Seregil. Now, young Alec isn't quite sure what to do with himself. His father died of an illness three months before, and he never knew his mother. He's all alone in the world.
So, Seregil hires him as a guide, needing to cross some difficult terrain in order to reach Wolde in time for a singing job he has lined up there. In Wolde, Seregil would go by the name Aren Windover. He would soon take Alec on permanently as an apprentice. Over the course of their journeys, Alec would learn much from Seregil, including various new trades and ancient history. Seregil was from Skala, one of the Three Lands in the south, which were almost as fables to northerners like Alec. The Three Lands include also Plenimar and Mycena; Skala and Plenimar have often been at war over the centuries since one country was broken up into the Three Lands a thousand years ago. And it looks like another war isn't far off. Alec also begins to learn of the AurŽnfaie, a people who live farther south even than the Three Lands. They can live for three or four hundred years, and they were the first people to possess magic; wizards from lands such as Skala will have some AurŽnfaie blood in them.
After Wolde, Alec and Seregil would make their way toward RhŪminee, the capital of Skala. But they'd have much travelling to do, and much adventure (for good and for ill), before they reached that city. Among the good, Alec would meet Seregil's old friend and fellow Watcher, Micum Cavish. The Watchers are sort of spies who report to the wizard Nysander, who reports to Idrilain the Second, the Queen of Skala. Seregil was once in love with Micum; but while Micum loves him as a friend and comrade, he could never return the kind of love Seregil felt. Among the ill, Seregil would fall gravely sick, and the inexperienced Alec would have to see him to the safety of home and friends he could scarcely have believed even existed outside bards' tales.
All the while, Lord Mardus and the necromancer Vargűl Ashnazai, agents of the Plenimaran Overlord, are in pursuit of them. Once in RhŪminee, Alec would meet Nysander, High Thaumaturgist of the Third OrŽska; Thero, Nysander's apprentice; and Valerius, a drysian. Drysians are healers who practice a natural, rather Druidic-seeming magic, quite different from that of the wizards. These three would work to cure Seregil. Alec would also meet various other wizards and assorted persons of import in this new world. He would also become a Watcher, himself, though he had much yet to learn.
History is always important to understand, such as a scandal 400 years ago involving Queen Idrilain the First, great-grandmother of the current Queen. After producing an heir, Lera, with her first consort, she later took a second consort, an AurŽnfaie named Corruth. Their daughter, Corruthesthera, was exiled when Lera became Queen. When Lera eventually died without producing an heir, Corruthesthera was recalled and made Queen, herself. Since then, all Skalan queens have been descended from her (and therefore have AurŽnfaie blood in them), and there has always been a small conspiratorial group in the Skalan nobility known as the Lerans, who have never been happy about this.
Of course, it is also important to learn swordsmanship, and while Seregil is a great swordsman, it's not an art he has much skill at teaching. Therefore, he takes Alec off to Watermead, Micum's home, to be taught by him. There he meets Micum's wife, Kari, and their three daughters. The oldest, Beka, is to become a member of the Queen's Horse Guard, and will help train Alec with the sword. The middle child, Elsbet, is more of a scholar, and will soon go off to study at the school at Illior Temple. (The Sacred Four are Dalna the Maker, Astellus the Traveler, Illior Lightbearer, and Sakor of the Flame.) The youngest Cavish daughter is 6-year-old Illia, who seems to take to people pretty quickly.
Eventually, Alec has to return to RhŪminee and learn to fit into high society, calling himself Sir Alec of Ivywell, a city in Mycena, whose father has died, leaving him a ward of Lord Seregil. There is, of course, also clandestine Watcher business to attend to, a new Leran plot to uncover and foilÖ and more traveling, more work, more danger, war creeping ever closer, and ancient necromancy threatening to return to active use against the wizards and armies of SkalaÖ