Curse of the Mistwraith – Janny Wurts

From Library Journal: 

Two brothers, heirs to lands and locked in a blood feud, are drawn across a dimensional portal into a world where they are hailed as the promised saviors. As Arithon, the Master of Shadows, and his half-brother Lysaer, the Lord of Light, prepare to do battle against the Mistwraith, who has for centuries cloaked the world of Athera in darkness, they face an additional battle born of their mutual distrust of each other. Although fantasy author Wurts breaks no new ground in this series opener, her elaborate and vivid world-building and complex protagonists recommend this title to fans of epic fantasy.

I read somewhere once that most books are written on a seventh grade reading level. Well, this one isn’t. This book has, perhaps, some of the most adult-type writing I’ve read in a book in a long time. That’s not a bad thing; don’t get me wrong. I will admit that the writing caught me a bit off guard at first.

Curse of the Mistwraith is a book that demands one hundred percent of your attention. While there aren’t many staggering new ideas in this book, Wurts’ writing style demands your full attention to wade through her densely woven prose. If you can get past the overall style of the book, you will discover some incredible world and character building.

Wurts does get slightly lost at times with what can quickly turn into being over-the-top descriptions, but she quickly gets back on track. This creates points the plot drags, but overall this book is a rich and worthwhile read for an individual willing to slog through eight hundred pages of Wurts’ style of writing.

I know I’m probably making it sounds like her writing is bad, and it’s really not. I truly did enjoy this book once I adjusted to her writing which sometimes made concepts hard for me to grasp. I am pointing out the writing so much because I’ve read numerous reviews online that absolutely hated this book and I truly think it was mostly because of the writing. You either dig Wurts’ style, or you don’t. It’s important to be aware that the style is unique before you start and understand that it seems that people either love or hate the way Curse of the Mistwraith is written.

At times Wurts seemed to spend more time on descriptions and laying down an important history than focusing on the characters themselves causing me to feel almost detached from the main cast at certain points. This isn’t permanent; the book quickly recovers. While I don’t think the plot was fast paced, I do think it moved along fairly smoothly with only a few hiccups that I’ve already mentioned in this post (It should be noted that reviews of further books in the series seem to think the problems I’m mentioning now get cleared up, by and large).

This book is very dry, with very little overall humor between the covers. Occasionally I felt that Wurts let one character rather blend into the next so, at points, the point of view would change and I wasn’t exactly who I was reading about, causing me to flip back and clear up whatever had confused me. This is, honestly, the first time I’ve ever really had that much confusion during POV switches. While it wasn’t constant, a few of her characters read just about exactly the same. 

I consider Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson a true test for any fan of epic fantasy. If you can wade through the first two books of that series without knowing what’s going on and then read the rest of the series while keeping straight the truly epic plot (not to mention the commitment it takes to stick out the Malazan books), you’ve got one hell of a brain for epic fantasy. Being a huge fan of Erikson, I consider myself fairly tempered toward complex, epic scale plots. I rarely have to re-read pages of books to sort out what is going on. Thus, I was fairly surprised when I had to flip back several times to figure out Curse of the Mistwraith. In my opinion, if the book had been more character driven at points rather than description driven, I wouldn’t have had to flip backward.

All in all, Curse of the Mistwraith is a very complex, epic work with a doorstopper page count (over eight hundred pages). Wurts writing is fluid and once you get into it, easy to get lost in. Her world building is, quite simply put, mind boggling and amazing. Her characters are complex. She doesn’t fall into the whole “since this is an epic book I need to have at least four thousand main characters” pit fall. Her cast is neat and tidy and shockingly small for a book written on this grand of a scale. It’s fairly easy to keep track of who is who and what is what once you get your bearings. If the plot does snag at times while Wurts gets caught up in flamboyantly describing something, it quickly recovers.

I would recommend this book if people already know they will enjoy the writing style. If you aren’t sure, get it from the library first. The writing style, from what I’ve read online, really does seem to be the thing most people who don’t like this book hinge on. The naysayers think (and this is quite a valid concern) that the writing actually distracts from the overall story and makes it hard to relate to the characters to the point where the reader doesn’t really care about what’s happening plot wise. You either like it or you don’t.

Fans of epic fantasy should take note of this book. The series is mostly finished at this point in time. I believe there’s only one book waiting to be published before it’s over. Thus, epic fans can pick up this book knowing they are starting a series that is, for the most part, done, which seems rather rare in the epic fantasy genre. It does require commitment, as the books are fairly large, but if you can make it through Malazan, you can make it through anything.

4/5 stars

Check out the post What it takes to write epic fantasy wherein Wurts discusses how she attacked the job of writing an epic-series of books. 

5 Responses

  • Anonymous

    "I believe there’s only one book waiting to be published before it’s over"

    Not quite. AFAIK, there's at least three more books to come. One of which has been completed and was undergoing final rewrites, and is titled Initiate's Trial. It's the first book of arc IV which she thinks can be completed with another book. Then the final arc she also thinks can be done in one book.

    I guess things are still subject to change though, so who knows when the series will be finished? It's not quite a GRRM situation as she has made progress.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the clarification! I get confused with the the arcs. I think I must have done that, yet again.

    I really do appreciate the clarification!! 🙂

  • Seak (Bryce L.)

    I have this sitting on my To-Read pile, but still have yet to get to it. Thanks for the review.

    I thought The Way of Kings was similar to how you just described Curse. It's epic, grand, detailed, but only focused on a few main characters. I quite liked it.

  • Sarah

    I enjoyed the lower number of characters, honestly. I thought it allowed me to get more involved in each characters story and background rather than feeling like I had a good overview of quite a few characters, like some other books I've read. It added some depth, I guess is what I'm saying.

  • Mark Timmony

    Janny is definitely one of my favorite authors – luckily I started reading her work before Erikson's (another favorite).

    And you are absolutely right, her prose is dense and takes a conscious adjustment on the part of the reader to 'get into it' but once you do it is well worth it! 😀

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