The White Road – Lynn Flewelling

After reading Shadows Return, in which there is slavery and torture, I was a bit hesitant about The White Road. I remember struggling to get through the chapters describing the enslavement of two characters I’ve come to care about; I remembered being intensely frustrated with Alec and Seregil once they won free because they seemed to be constantly bickering and misunderstanding until I wanted to shake them both like maracas. However, having received Casket of Souls through Netgalley, I needed to catch up, so I skimmed the last several chapters of Shadows Return before picking up The White Road … and … I didn’t see it this time. Maybe because I was more intent on reacquainting myself with What Went Before rather than reading every word as a first go-round, the last part of the book seemed to move much faster, and while there were indeed classic misunderstandings and other such situations that could be easily enough resolved if the folk involved would just bloody talk to each other … they weren’t as bad as I’d remembered. Overall, I was just pleased to work back into the Nightrunners’ story, and that set me up nicely for this.

The White Road picks up directly after Shadows Return ends. Seregil and Alec are recovering – as the first line points out, “Dying – even for just a little while – took a lot out of a person.” They’re all in need of TLC, Seregil and Alec and Sebrahn – the tayan’gil, the strange little childlike being made from Alec’s essence. And he (using the term loosely) is very strange indeed. He – not that he has any male or female attributes, if you know what I mean – can heal; his silver blood dropped into water forms flowers, which when applied to a wound heal it. His rare tears can heal even death – as Alec discovered firsthand.

It’s a fascinating idea, the tayan’gil (also known as a white child, being colorless): part golem, part homunculus, part pure Flewelling. The method of healing is unique and beautiful; the idea that the childlike creature is both appealing and repellent, not to mention terrifying, is brilliant.

When he escaped from his imprisonment, Alec went back for Sebrahn; he had no choice, having seen how the tayan’gil’s predecessor was treated, and knowing that the little creature feeds only off Alec’s own blood. He was rewarded almost immediately when Sebrahn saved him and his comrades (in more ways than one) … but the tayan’gil’s presence proves a challenge. They are pursued – not by the alchemist who made him, as Seregil, happily, killed him, but by others who are very personally concerned about the presence in the world of a tayan’gil, not to mention the half-Hâzadrielfaie whose blood could be used to make more. Then, of course, there is the constant concern that should Sebrahn feel threatened, or feel that Alec is threatened, he might lash out in the same way he did when he saved their lives, with a killing song. Then, it was shocking but beneficial to Our Heroes; when they are staying with Seregil’s kin in Bôkthersa or in some other place filled with friends, it would be tragic. Alec feels responsible for the creature, and cares for him almost like his own child; Seregil learns affection for him, but worries over the burden and the dangers; others’ reactions range from outright loathing to intrigue.

Through long thought and consultation with greater powers (and can I just say that “the Friend” was worth the price of admission all by his own big self), Alec and Seregil decide that the only thing they can do is go back to where they came from: Riga, where they were held as slaves, where Sebrahn was created. It sounded like a terrible idea to me – any sane person would stay far, far away from a place holding such pain and danger. But few have ever accused the Nightrunners of complete sanity – and it is their only real choice. It makes sense. If they can get hold of the book the alchemist used to make the tayan’gil, they can accomplish two goals: keep others from gaining the ability to create another Sebrahn, and, perhaps, gain a little insight into how he works.

Venturing across the sea into territory where Aurenfaie are seen as nothing but slaves to retrieve a book from the very household in which they were enslaved – this should be enough to keep a book going. But wait: there’s more. Meanwhile, there is the abominable Ulan, a clan leader who thinks little of bringing in some extra money by allowing his own people to be sold, who is slowly dying of a lung disease and who wants the healing powers of a tayan’gil for himself: either Sebrahn or one he creates himself, he’s not picky. He wants the book, the white child, and Alec, and he will do anything to get them. Also, from another direction, the Hâzadrielfaie want much the same things for different reasons: they need to contain Alec and Sebrahn and the book, or – possibly – destroy them. And they’re not going to let anything get in their way, either.

This book is a pure joy, after having read a great many new-to-me writers and encountered some true stinkers, to be able to relax into the warm and reliable depths of a new(-to-me) book by a favorite writer. The reasons she’s one of my favorites all make themselves known here: I enjoy the heck out of the writing, the characters, and the story, and – while it took me a little time to relax and remember it fully – Lynn Flewelling is one of those writers I feel completely safe with. I mean stand on a stump, cross my arms, close my eyes, and fall backwards safe: I know without question that I can trust her writing to catch me. Yeah, I remember now. This is why I’ve always spent so much time re-reading. It’s wonderful to read new books and push the comfort zone and discover new favorites – but you just can’t beat this feeling.

I can only sit back and admire Lynn Flewelling’s skill with names, for characters and places both. Rhiminee! I

Cover of "Shadows Return (Nightrunner, Bk...

Cover of Shadows Return (Nightrunner, Bk. 4)

love Rhiminee. I think the solitary thing I did not admire about the writing in this was the stretched-out-vowel-sounds of Sebrahn’s contributions, and that was purely personal bias; I get it. It was like any dialect or speech eccentricity in a book’s characters, though – a little goes a long way, and more than a little is too much.

My favorite parts of these books are always the ones that hearken back to the beginning: the Nightrunners, nightrunning and working with Thero and Micum; Alec integrating into the various places Seregil has called home. I think I was as relieved as Seregil at the outcome of this story. It was an inevitable resolution which still managed to hang in the balance and remain in question up till the end. Well done, ma’am.

Much as I want the boys to decide to take on the quest to eradicate slavery – because even for an institution which is inherently horrible the slavery in these books is bad – I’m glad to see them settling back in at the Stag and Otter.

In full knowledge that it won’t last, of course.

I’m still very disappointed in the cover, though, after the gorgeous one for Shadows Return.

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