Sunday, 13 March 2016

Series Review || Nightrunner #1-3 by Lynn Flewelling

Nightrunner #1-3 by Lynn Flewelling ★★★★☆
When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them.

Oh boy, if that summary isn't the biggest understatement of this series, I don't know what is. Because man, do things take a turn for both Seregil and Alec.

I have a lot of feelings about these first three books in the Nightrunner series. And as you might guess from the 4 star rating, most of them are good. I'm not sure how coherent this review will be, but I'll try my best.

First of all is Flewelling's characters. Seregil and Alec in particular, but really, the whole supporting cast is fantastic as well. I adored Alec from the outset--his charming naivety, his steadfast loyalty, his quick competence. He goes through so much in these first three books and is so changed by it. He's pitted against some overwhelming odds right at the beginning of book 1 and perseveres. I just want to clutch him to my chest and fight off anyone who tries to hurt him.

Seregil too, although those overprotective feelings didn't develop fulling until book 2. Because Seregil puts on a good performance, and it's only later that you realize how much he's been hurting and hiding. Despite that, he is so kind and loyal--despite the terrible hand fate has dealt him. As that starts to unravel in book 2 and especially in book 3, I was ready keep him safe, much like Alec.

And oh, let's talk for a hot second about the romance between these two. Because, I'll be honest, that was what drew me to these books in the first place. The slow burn is so good. There's only hints of anything in book 1, and it takes until the very end of book 2 before anyone acts on any of those feelings. But there is some delicious mutual pining in the lead up. (Along with, y'know, forced separation and mortal peril, which are always good for kickstarting the romance.)

And I appreciated how casual and familiar things seem between them in book 3. But despite occasional mention, most of the rest of it takes place off-page. Not that I mind--or that I even really think the books should've focused on the romance more heavily--but I wonder if things might've played out differently had it been a heterosexual pairing.

Despite all that, Flewelling's world is nothing if not tolerant. Bisexuality is treated as normal and common throughout most of the lands and both Seregil and Alec are canonically bisexual. Skala--the main kingdom of the series--is a matriarchy, ruled by warrior women. Though, I will quibble a little with the small role female characters play, at least at the outset of the series. This improves through books 2 and 3, though, to Flewelling's credit.

The politics and mysteries, magic and intrigue were also excellently done. Though, I feel like the writing gets clunky in places. There are breadcrumbs, but they're not always that easy to follow. Flewelling tries to tease out hints, but some of them are bogged down with intentional obscurity--leaving you with the feeling that she's withholding information intentionally only to rip the curtain back at the last second. I'm sure that rereading passages with the reveal in mind would help you see how the pieces were supposed to fit together, but again, clunky. This didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the books, per se, but you can see that this is a 4 star series and not a 5 star one.

Still, that aside, the tensions and stakes felt appropriately high in times of danger. I had a difficult time putting any of the books down, and when I did, I was constantly thinking about what might be going on in my absence. Despite the fact that they're basically 500 pages a piece, I read them mostly in 3 or fewer sittings--often reading 300+ pages at a time.

There are currently 7 books in the series, but book 3 does a good job of rounding out most of the major plot threads satisfactorily. Sure, there's more to be explored in this world, but I'm not sure if I'm going to continue on. I love Seregil and Alec and would read more, but at the same time, there was a nice little ending--even as open as it was.

And I've read the summary of book 4 and from the sounds of it (and some of the reviews I've read) it sort of looks like things get a little too trope-y. That, and with the number of years between books 3 and 4... some reviewers have mentioned inconsistencies within the canon. And anyway, I don't know that I really need to read on. I can happily conjure up fantasies about what Seregil and Alec might be up to or read fanfic to satisfy the urge--but I don't know that I need to read about them getting captured and separated and sold into slavery. No really, that's the synopsis of book 4.

Anyway! Quite the ramble, but hopefully that's mostly coherent! I really did enjoy these books, despite their flaws. And if you're interested in some classic 90s fantasy with queer protagonists, I'd definitely recommend it!