Helen Lowe’s The Heir of Night was a book full of potential. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to it. The Heir of Night is a perfect example of mediocrity - and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Simply put, it is not a novel to challenge genre conventions or go against the stereotypes, but not everyone wants their chosen read to forge it’s own new and original path through the literary landscape, sometimes an enthusiastic retelling of familiar tropes is enough for a book to be ‘good.’ The Heir of Night, sadly, doesn’t even offer that. Those looking for a cosy ‘same-old’ fantasy might find their fit with Lowe’s first adult novel, but I, for one, was left on my appetite.
Malian is being trained to rule. Her people garrison the mountain range known as the Wall of Night against an ancient enemy, keeping a tide of shadow from the rest of the their world. Malian is expected to uphold this tradition, yet she’s known little of real danger until the enemy launches a direct attack upon her fortress home.
In the darkest part of the night, the Keep of Winds becomes a bloodbath. Women and children, warriors and priests are slain by creatures with twisted magic flowing in their veins. And as the castle wakes to chaos, Malian flees deep into the Old Keep, her life at stake. Then when the danger is greatest, her own hidden magic flares into life.
But this untapped potential is a two-edged blade. If she accepts its power, she must prepare to pay the price.
Like I stated above, mediocrity, in my mind, is not an inherently bad thing. It’s just not a good either. Or perhaps this is a better way to put it: a mediocre book, for me, is one whose strengths don’t outweigh its weaknesses but balance each other out to achieve an underwhelming yet not wholly unsatisfying read. In many ways The Heir of Night embodies this definition having a number of great moments but equally unexciting moments at other times. There were those instances were it hooked me in but I dropped right back out of the story when the story got - inevitably - bogged down again.
The heart of The Heir or Night’s issues lies in the balance between plot and characters, or lack thereof. Plot for the sake of plot is never a good thing, but neither are soggy, self-absorbed character pieces. The key lays in having both in appropriate doses and mixing them together. Lowe never seems able to achieve this. Instead The Heir of Night is plagued with extensive segments where all the narrative’s focus goes to the workings of the magic system (plot) while forsaking character and vice versa.
The worst thing is that the rare moments where Lowe does strike that balance she does so almost perfectly and shows us just what she is capable of. Because there is much potential but it really isn’t ever realized. Take the characters, for example. Malian is a sweet girl and a perfect candidate to interpret the role of the ‘child of prophecy’ - it’s even nice to have a girl for a change - and I did wish to spend some time with her, yet the unfocused perspective constantly wandered to the viewpoint of a bland secondary character, someone whom I don’t much care about.
Truly it is a shame to have seen such promise squandered. I can’t help but think that a plot with a bit more sustenance and better integrated with character development would have made for a much stronger, more enjoyable novel. Despite that, I’m sure some will find a certain comfort in the story The Heir of Night has to tell and will rather enjoy it, but I would be hard pressed to recommend it wholeheartedly. Being an eternal optimist, I will however look to giving the second book in The Wall of Night series, The Gathering of the Lost a try. Look for that to be published in Fall 2011 or early 2012.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Helen Lowe's Website: http://www.helenlowe.info/
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