Five centuries after an oppressive force took over their world, two opposing magical princes, Lysaer, Lord of Light, and Arithon, Master of Shadows, hold the power to overthrow the Mistwraith if they can overcome their differences.
©1992 Janny Wurts (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
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"A satisfying self-contained story"
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Janny Wurts’ The Master of Whitestorm is a stand-alone high fantasy that, like the author’s other work, differentiates itself from other fantasies published in the late 20th century that feature a medieval-style setting. The book has recently been produced in audio format by Audible and is read by British actor Simon Prebble, a highly decorated audiobook narrator and someone whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits. As expected, he does a wonderful job with The Master of Whitestorm and I recommend this audio version to anyone who wants to read or re-read this exciting and emotional story.
The story begins in the slave galley of a ship. Haldeth, whose wife and children were slaughtered by the Murghai, is now chained to the oar of one of their ships. As he slaves for his captors, he observes his benchmate, a man named Korendir who looks fierce but so far has never said a word — he just stoically rows. All the other slaves (and the Murghai) think Korendir is stupid or mute, but it turns out that he has spent his time studying and planning and suddenly, after years of slavery, Korendir announces to Haldeth that he plans to escape their captors. Haldeth reluctantly decides to throw in his lot with the enigmatic man and thus starts a lifelong friendship in which Haldeth will watch Korendir accomplish many other seemingly impossible feats and quests, mostly by outsmarting his opponents.
On the surface, The Master of Whitestorm is an episodic adventure story with a hero who will remind you of Hercules or Odysseus. He fights monsters, saves princesses, breaks curses, resists sirens, builds an invincible castle on a cliff, and outfoxes an elemental spirit. All of these exploits are exciting and there are many delightfully unique elements such as a city where everyone is cursed to be happy. There are some memorable characters such as a dwarf couple who contribute a bit of humor that helps to offset the grimness of the main characters. There is also a sweet romance.
But the story is more than just a series of exploits and quests. More than anything it’s a character study of both Korendir and Haldeth. We follow both characters for many years and it’s slowly revealed that Korendir is not as aloof and stoic as he seems. We learn that his courageous deeds are actually motivated by fear. In contrast, Haldeth, who observes Korendir’s reckless behavior, is also fearful. Both men struggle with the traumas of their past and their fears about an uncertain future. Korendir and Haldeth employ different coping strategies and their outcomes differ significantly.
The Master of Whitestorm is a satisfying self-contained story. Again, I highly recommend the audio version read by Simon Prebble.
"Prebble's narration brings new clarity and emotion"
I was introduced to Janny Wurts by first reading The Curse of the Mistwraith and totally loving it, so was hooked. Being my compulsive self, I couldn't stop reading until I finished that series before working my way backward through her earlier works.
This book tells the story of Korendir, first introduced as a galley slave. He's a 'typical' Wurts hero in that he's tough, defended, smart, prickly (extremely), and underneath it all, a total cream puff. Having been introduced to this sort in the Mistwraith series, I was therefore patient with him and enjoyed the ride through his adventures early in the book. As events unfold, we finally learn the reasons for his behavior, and he becomes more human. This slow uncovering is also a Wurts hallmark, and one that I totally enjoy. While I was sure that would happen, other plot twists are less predictable and we are served up the climax with psychological depth and deep understanding - another Wurts characteristic, which is only one of the things I enjoy so much about her writing.
This is a standalone novel and a good introduction to the writing of Janny Wurts. The writing style is less complex than the style of the Mistwraith series, and so it's an easier read, for those who would like to dip their toe into the work of this outstanding author.
REREAD: I listened to the new audio edition of this book and couldn't believe how rich the narration of it is. Simon Prebble's voice and interpretation is magnificent. He pours emotion into his reading that is rare in other books I've listened to him read. I was sobbing at the end. Beautiful.
"Mercenary. Adventurer. Legend."
In the words of Stephen R. Donaldson Janny Wurts is 'a gifted creator of wonder'. Not one to follow a well-trodden path of tropes, Wurts blazes new trails with her stories and always, always links them irrevocably with human resilience and spirit. The Master of Whitestorm is a standalone novel of towering brilliance, each chapter revealing layers and startling depth and a clear and natural unfurling of story that is as thrilling for its surprises as it is for how all the pieces fit together.
Janny Wurts is one of the most lyrical writers I know and her brilliance with word choice and naming is close to unmatched. Words are chosen and sentences constructed precisely and with the care of a painter (which she is also) choosing colours to create a visual masterpiece. While Wurts’ storytelling demands an investment of time and concentration, the payoff is always worth it.
I couldn't possibly choose just one.
Mercenary. Adventurer. Legend.
Simon Prebble is a powerful narrator whose sense of timing, nuance and flair do perfect justice to Wurts' writing and offer a highly entertaining and engrossing audio book experience. I cannot recommend this - or any of Wurts’ work - enough.
"Fantastic Presentation of a Bold Imaginative Tale"
Yes, In fact, I listened to it from the beginning a second time right away as there were nuances in the story and the narration I overlooked the first time round.
Robert E Howard's Conan stories. Because both main characters use skill and wit to over come seemingly impossible situations. Both characters have an inner core that is misunderstood by those more "civilized"
Encounters with werelepards. Werewolves are a common construct. Shape shifting from a poisonous aggressive feline animal predator into a poisonous aggressive half human predator added tension to the track and hunt of these beasts.
The nature of the book is episodic, so there are lulls between adventures. The author ended chapters at moments where one would want to continue on with the story. In audio format, the pause button allows us to pause as we choose to rest the story after an adventure, or continue on.
The narration was very well done . The story was read with authority, and just enough inflection to add interest and differentiate the characters without over acting.
"Good story, but not compelling"
3.5 stars for this stand-alone epic fantasy complete with wizards, bloody butchery, and a touch of bittersweet romance. I had never read Janny Wurts before, but based on positive reviews, decided to give it a go. She's a whiz with words, that's perfectly clear. A masterful writer. She also crafts some very clever plots — particularly the tricks the hero Korendir uses to defeat various über-powerful banes.
Most of the book portrays Korendir fighting various evils that imperil the eleven kingdoms. Especially memorable are the tricks he used on the weather elemental (Cyondide?) at White Storm Cliff, and the subterfuge employed against the Demons of Mathcek.
In some sense, this fantasy — while grim and dark — has a happy ending, but by no means should a reader expect a feel-good story of conviviality among comrades. And even though there is a heartfelt love affair, this doesn't read like a love story.
Quibbles: For me, there's not enough character development or relationship development. Various heroic, highly-intelligent endeavors (against wereleopards, witches, demons, dragons, etc.) carry the book, not the characters. It took too long to get to know and love the heartbroken, compassionate hero — Master of Whitestorm. Overnight he went from galley-slave to brilliant strategist, knife thrower, and sword fighter. But I did eventually care about him, and I liked the heroine, Lady Ithariel the Enchantress. I gradually lost interest in the blacksmith, Heldrith. His role in the story diminishes midway through the book.
I felt the relationship development between Korendir and Ithariel was rushed. So, bottom line, I wasn't especially moved by this book. When bad things happened to various good people, I cared a little, but I didn't shed a tear.
Nonetheless, a good story, well told. Good narration by Simon Prebble, but he employed a gruff tone that was a little difficult to understand, at times.
"The Compassionate Mercenary Hero"
Ever since Mhurgai raiders butchered the wife and daughters of Haldeth the smith and made him a galley slave seven years ago, he's been numbly living by obediently rowing when his bench partner of three years, a mysterious, "mute" young man, suddenly says, "I was named Korendir. And I'm getting off." Haldeth is appalled because no slave has ever escaped from a Mhurgai galley, but he follows Korendir's lead because the hero of Janny Wurts' Master of Whitestorm (1992) is a Man on a Mission. (Knowing Korendir as we come to know him, we may wonder why he waited three years to try to escape!)
Korendir's goal is to earn enough gold by dealing with enough increasingly impossible and dangerous quests and feats in the Eleven Kingdoms of Aerith to build an invulnerable, wardstone-protected stronghold. Wurts gives her intrepid hero a fighting chance by giving his formidable antagonists (wicked witches, wild elementals, demonic monsters, "void spawn," etc.), exploitable weaknesses (water, iron, pride, etc.). Despite our expectation that Korendir will come out on top of each new mission, Wurts builds suspense by making us wonder how he'll get out of each tight spot and which of the people connected to him will survive. In addition to being a proficient, black-clad killer, Korendir turns out to be a mercenary motivated by compassion, for he prefers jobs that enable him to save lives, especially children's.
Throughout all this, Wurts narrates almost nothing from the points of view of the hero's antagonists, exploring almost nothing of their different characters and cultures, and leaving them rather cardboard monsters and villains. I can accept such depictions in cases like those of a plague of wereleopards (although I sense a missed opportunity for some original fantasy there), but I cringe at what Wurts does with the Datha. She takes the typical fantasy pseudo-Arabic/Islamic culture (complete with Sultan and scimitars) and makes the Datha unbelievably brutal masters whose capital city is made a desert paradise by the labor of thousands of slaves, all of whom have had their thumbs cut off and their tongues cut out at the beginning of their bondage! Wurts wants her Datha reprehensible enough to merit some terrible punishment.
It is refreshing that Wurts' novel is self-contained and compact by modern heroic fantasy standards, but some of her world-building seems skimpy. For instance, characters swear by a God called Neth, but there is no mention of what kind of god he/she is or what kind of religion the people follow, if any. And there is no explanation for why among the eleven kingdoms Mhurga alone has a different language. And although Wurts sets up a magic system based on "earth magic" and "chaos magic," she still often does what most writers do when employing magic: conveniently use it or ignore it to drive her plot where she wants it to go.
Two virtues make Wurts' novel worth reading. The first is that her fine writing usually outweighs corny lines like "The scars which traced the backs of his knuckles marked him out for a killer." More often she writes vivid and imaginative prose, as when she describes the moment just before a magical attack: "Night fell. The dunes muffled the boom of the surf and the snap of burning logs seemed brittle, almost crushed by the weight of the greater silence. When the gelding sucked a sudden sharp breath into its damaged lungs, the sound parted the air like the rip of a knife through cloth." Her depiction of the demons' chaos world is neat: at one point Korendir makes a road with his mind and laughs, realizing that in the world of the demons, “sound was an object and thought an act of physical creation.”
The novel’s other saving grace is Wurts' intense examination of the psyches of hero and sidekick. We wonder what has driven Korendir (a Beowulf Batman Shane) to repeatedly risk his life on ever more risky adventures even after earning enough gold to build his holdfast. The scene in which we finally learn about his past is moving and romantic. Haldeth, like Korendir, has been traumatized, but rather than recklessly risk his life, he has decided to live as safely and solitarily as possible. The contrast between the two men and Haldeth's constant unease with his daredevil friend regularly pique interest. As Haldeth thinks at one point, for better and worse, he can only ever be only a smith, never a hero.
Finally, can Wurts' fine writing and psychological exploration of hero and foil compensate for the rather typical antagonists and quests? The answer is maybe mostly. It helps that the ending of the novel is potent, bearing out Haldeth's thought that "Endings did not happen with such clean simplicity." It also helps that the reader of the audiobook is Simon Prebble, who adds to the novel his usual sensitive and savory gravitas. Readers who like intelligent heroic fantasy for adults would probably like Master of Whitestorm.
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