Sometimes ago I mentioned I was planning to read the Nightrunner series for a book club I had joined. In the end, I was caught up reading other books and I didn’t precisely respect all deadlines, however I did manage to start the series. So let’s talk about its first novel, shall we?
Title: Luck In The Shadows
Author: Lynn Flewelling
Original Publisher: Spectra Books
Publication Date: 1 August 1996
Standalone or Series: First book of the Nightrunner series
Synopsis: Taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, young hunter Alec of Kerry manages to escape with the help of his cellmate, Seregil of Rhiminee, a charismatic rogue and spy who offers to take him as an apprentice. Thus, Alec leaves his old simple life behind and follows Seregil on a journey to the city of Rhiminee, all the while being trained in the new skills he needs to master – and surviving all the vicious enemies on their tracks. In Rhiminee, Alec gets acquainted with a dazzling world leagues aways from his rustic background; is introduced to mages, nobles, secretive circles; and, alongside with is mentor, gets involved in political conspiracies that are nothing but a dim reflection of a greater evil that’s lurking at the horizon.
Analysis: Luck In The Shadow is largely told from alternating the point of views of Alec and Seregil, although the third person narrator occasionally dips into the head of some other character – such as the spooky cackling villains we see in the prologue. Flewelling’s prose is rich of description and not exactly fast-paced, however it does its job at evoking a fairly classical fantasy atmosphere.
The setting is, indeed, remindful of so many stories we have read, or even just absorbed by cultural osmosis: we have a medievalesque society, widestpread magic, wise wizards, rival kingdoms, distant rumors of dragons, and a race of absolutely-not-elves such as the Aurenfaie (who are long lived, closer to magic, and somehow isolationists – although they do not have pointy ears and instead just look like attractive humans).
If the ambience is a bit derivative even for the ’90s standards, however, the setting still stands out for its lack of pervasive sexism and homophobia – and while attitudes may vary depending on each region and culture, the land where most of the story is set appears very open-minded on the matter. Indeed, the series is perhaps most famous for its positive portrayal of gay and bisexual characters, especially in the shape of love story between the two protagonists – whose attraction, however, in this first novel is still in its early development. I especially appreciated how the novel doesn’t even try to teach us a lesson about acceptance or make sexuality a key theme of the story – instead, it just depicts a fantasy world without rampant homophobia, because in spite of some infamous claims, you’re not obliged by law to add bigotry the very second you want to set your story in some sort of magical past.
The characters are likely the strongest point of the book; both Alec and Seregil are farily well fleshed out and, most importantly, very easy to like. There is perhaps some wavering in Alec’s characterisation, since at times he comes across as clever and practical, and other times as overly shy and blushing, but overall he’s quite sympathetic and endearing. Seregil is an archetypal lovable rogue with a troubled past, which, again, might be a cliche, but an entertaining one at that; while he’s very competent and resourceful, he’s definitely not good at -everything-, which protects him from the risk of Gary Stu-ness that often comes with such a character concept.
The plot features some fine swashbuckling action, however it feels quite slow overall; it’s still enjoyable enough, although it does feel as the slow-burn preparation for some future development.
Conclusions & Recommendations: Luck In The Shadows was, well, nice. It didn’t blow my mind, it didn’t become my new obsession, however it was entertaining enough to keep on reading the series. Also, while a few decades later it does come across as a bit of a déja vu, it’s also refreshing to read an older book that doesn’t come with an inherently infuriating worldview. I wouldn’t call it a mandatory read, but it’s worth a try, especially if you like the combination of very classical fantasy vibes and of a queer-positive worldview.
Content Warning: Death – Torture – Violence