Stalking Darkness – by Lynn Flewelling

Luck In The Shadows had left me less impressed than I had originally hoped, but still entertained enough to keep on reading the series. Besides, who am I kidding, I do have a problem with leaving things unfinished. So, here we go.

Title: Stalking Darkness

Author: Lynn Flewelling

Original Publisher: Spectra Books

Publication Date: 3 February 1997

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 501

Standalone or Series: Second book of the Nightrunner series

Synopsis: After overcoming the threats they had faced in Luck In The Shadows, Alec and Seregil must now turn their attention to the ancient evil which threatens their land: the Plenimarans, in fact, at war with Skalans, are trying to raise up the Dead God, Seriamaius, in order to gain an edge against their enemies. Advised by Seregil’s friend and Mentor, the wizard Nysander, our heroes must embark on a quest to retrieve and destroy the last items required by the summoning ritual.

Analysis: Stalking Darkness, not unlike Luck In The Shadows, is written in third person and from multiple points of view; while the first novel largely focused on Alec and Seregil, with chapters from other characters so sparse to look incongruous, here the cast is more consistently varied: Micum’s point of view, for once, is considerably expanded, and a sizeable subplot is devoted to Beka’s endeavours as well.

The general vibe of the novel is similar to that of Luck In The Shadows: once again, here we have a honest and unpretentious epic fantasy, with very traditional tropes, characters, plot devices, and a slow-burn queer romance as its main innovative twist. Which may sound unimpressive nowadays, but would have left many of us stunned and grateful in the late ’90s when it was published.

While the first novel felt very much like an extended introduction, Stalking Darkness is where push comes to shove; threats that were once looming at the horizon are now urgent and real, and the plot moves from local shenanigans to a more typical world-saving scenario. Characters must also face even more dramatic challenges and choices that’ll leave them irreversibly changed (possibly traumatising some invested reader in the process). The novel in itself is engaging and satisfying, however I must say the pacing of the series feels somehow odd at this point: after the extended training montage that was Luck In The Shadows, I was expecting at least a trilogy to bring the main plot arc to its climax. Instead, this second book wraps everything up much faster than I had expected.

The relationship between Alec and Seregil is also brought to its much expected development – but not without additional anguish and shared suffering. Once again, I appreciated both that the romance was there, and that it was not the main focus of the story: we see our protagonists’ mutual affection develop while they’re busy doing something else, supporting each other through hard times and in desperate missions – which is in my opinion much more sympathetic than seeing a couple spurt a whole plot-worthy amount of drama on each other and still pretend they are a suitable match.

While the novel is defiitely more than fair for its days, it still has some scene that does come across as awkward nowadays – and I am mainly thinking about Alec’s sexual initiation with Ylinestra, which is a case of dubious consent if we want to be very generous, but that is not treated in all its seriousness in the story. On a lighter note, I could not help but think how the whole “young pupil falls in love with mature and charismatic master” narrative might raise some additional eyebrow nowadays; while I am not exactly a fan of the trope, however, in this case I never had doubts on the generally benign nature of Alec’s and Seregil’s relationship; while the latter is surely more experienced in many ways, their power dynamic isn’t one-sided, which is very clear when they reveal their feelings at the end.

Conclusion: Overall, my judgment on Lynn Flewelling’s writing still stands. Stalking Darkness is a fine and entertaining continuation to Luck In The Shadow, and while highly tropey epic fantasy isn’t generally my thing, at this point I can’t help but care about what happens to these people.

Content Warning: Death – Torture – Violence – Sexual Assault – Sexual Content

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