Note: I received this ebook from the publisher, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
These days, I don’t read much high fantasy. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the many hours I spent reading Mercedes Lackey books in middle and high school; it’s just that I rarely, rarely feel like returning to that type of fantasy. But I’ve never been able to quit Lynn Flewelling. I looooved The Bone Doll’s Twin (you can always get me with gender stuff and a healthy dose of creepiness), and I get a kick out of seeing the Seregil and Alec doing their political machinations (Traitor’s Moon is my favorite of that series, because it’s full of machinations). So when I saw that the Nightrunners series was coming to an end this year, I had to get a copy as quickly as possible. Naturally.
At the request of young Queen Elani, Seregil and Alec have been asked to investigate a suspicious death in one of Skala’s possessions, a sacred site called Kouros. The governor of Kouros and his wife were brutally murdered, but their doors were locked from the inside, and there was no sign of forced entry. Several witnesses also swear that they saw ghosts outside the governor’s room before the event. Seregil and Alec, along with Micum, Klia, Thero, and Thero’s young apprentice Mika, set off for Kouros to investigate. BAD TIMES ARE AHEAD.
First things first: They should have left Micum home. Just leave Micum home! Apart from the historical resonances (they’re four dudes fighting black magic now just like there were four dudes fighting black magic in Stalking Darkness), there’s nothing really for Micum to do in the book. Leave the guy home! He deserves a good retirement. We’ve hit all the character beats with Micum that we’re going to get, at this point.
Second things second: I crazy love a locked-door mystery, and I crazy love a ghost story. That the final Nightrunners book incorporates both of these elements was a source of great joy to me. We pretty quickly discover that the ghosts are coming from some other place, a place where dark magic rules. Only the dead can walk with the dead, the group keeps hearing. This becomes even more ominous when Alec and Thero’s apprentice Mika begin to disappear for hours at a time, finding themselves in some alternate version of Kouros where water doesn’t feel wet and fire doesn’t feel warm.
When I say that Shards of Time is the statistical average of all the Nightrunner books that have come before it, I hope you won’t think that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did! The statistical average of a bunch of things I quite liked comes out to another thing I quite liked — as you might expect. There weren’t a ton of political machinations (which I love), but there was nevertheless some jostling for position under the new regime at Kouros. Without getting into the messy mysticism of the whole Sebrahn plotline (bleh), the magic aspects were pleasantly creepy and felt like a genuine risk to our heroes.
But I’d have loved to see Flewelling taking a few more risks in this book. The crucial thing to keeping a long-running series alive emotionally is ruthlessness on the part of the writer. (Spoilers to follow.) One of my favorite sequences in the book is when Klia is kidnapped by a necromancer, who threatens her and her new pregnancy if Klia refuses to help. Despite the surprise magic baby (Klia’s lover was supposed to have been sterile, as wizards are), Klia is immediately willing to sacrifice herself and her future child to thwart the necromancer’s wicked plan. GOOD. That is the correct moral decision, and it is also a pleasing display of ruthlessness by Klia in pursuit of what she wants. Even if everything is going to end happily, I like to see the characters making bold plays, stuff they do because it’s all they can think of, because their backs are against the wall, like that time Elena Gilbert stabbed her own damn self in the stomach to get what she wanted. Everything here felt a little too planned.
Still, my primary feeling was to be very, very fond of this book, and of Lynn Flewelling, and like, the younger versions of me who read this series over the years. If I were trying to talk someone into Lynn Flewelling, the book I would give them would be The Bone Doll’s Twin. But Shards of Time is a very nice coda to a series I’ve enjoyed lo these many years.
Now I am going to go reread The Bone Doll’s Twin. That book is some scary business.