Review: Nightrunner series and Glimpses, by Lynn Flewelling

Welcome, travelers, and let us take up our silly teacups for another installment of The Ginger Waif’s Genre Book Reviews for the Chronically Imaginative. Today I decided to review Lynn Flewelling’s Glimpses, because it brings me joy, and is kind of new, in that it only came out last fall. Then I realized there’d be no reviewing Glimpses without reviewing the whole of the Nightrunner series. And, dear readers, I am perfectly okay with that. And I’m sure Ms. Flewelling won’t mind. There’s another one coming out and it will be called Casket of Souls (because Ginger Waifs stalk author blogs, y’see) and all will be awesome.

So, Nightrunner. As a series it follows the adventures of two of the grandest rogues to ever grace a page. Seregil is a bit of a cosmopolitan rake and Alec is a naïve ranger (at least to begin with), but the story takes those archetypes and runs with them in awesome directions. They live in a fantastically detailed world that feels very real and grounded despite the magic flying about every which way, full of small touches like table manners and dramatic flairs on the scale of Greek fire. The leads occasionally lean just a bit to the too awesome side of skilled, but they have their flaws. And more than that, they’re human and likeable.

Human is used here in… a loose sense.

The action of the stories generally contains plenty of sorcery and daring escapes and sword fights, but the victories that matter to the plot generally hinge on Seregil (and, as he matures a bit, increasingly Alec as well) being just too bloody clever. And I appreciate that. There’s nothing as irritating to me as that part of a really good book where the plot suddenly forces competent characters to  catch the idiot ball. Never happens in Nightrunner. There are bad decisions, of course, but they’re always in character, emotional responses.

When I’d finished the extant books all at a stretch, I picked up a different fantasy novel about sneaky people and was already annoyed with their elementary mistakes in the first chapter.

“Can you really not see what’s going on! This is a trap! You amateur! You’ve already given her enough information to peg you! Seregil would never do that!”

And if I’m hoping for a character from a different universe to tag into another story, I think the impression speaks for itself. Nightrunner is a series that I remember reading. This may only be an issue for me, but sometimes my memories of my time in the regular old world spent on a book make a big impression. I had this, ahem, experience the first time I read Flewelling’s work, when I picked up The Bone Doll’s Twin. Without giving anything away, that book ends on a cliffhanger the likes of which you only find is Aslan’s country. And I didn’t have a way to get hold of the second book for weeks. So when I was most of the way through Luck in the Shadows, I stopped reading until I had Stalking Darkness in hand. I plowed through that series. My younger sister was reading behind me, and those being lazy, summery days, we’d just both sit in the living room. We’re similarly demonstrative readers, and I’d always know exactly what she was laughing or gasping at. And then my brother picked up behind her. (My copies of the books look much older than they are—Ginger Waiflings are hard on books!) Frankly, I suspect the dogs might have been reading them, the way we flocked to them that summer. It was a good time. We even taught the littlest Ginger to imitate a character who appears late in the series on command. She makes a good Sebrahn.

When it comes to the stars of reviewland, Nightrunner gets all four. The world is incredible. The geography makes sense, the cultures are well realized (how often does anyone pull off the Land of Evil Deity Worship in a way that makes sense?), hell, the character’s diets make sense. The writing isn’t going to change the world with the sheer might of its wordsmithing, but it’s clever and arresting. The characters all do their jobs wonderfully. You want to hug the heroes and throw the villains off cliffs. But they do it without ever being puppets of the plot and they’re all very fully realized people. And finally, the stories are great. The first two books form pretty much one solid arc, and then the next few sequels start new threads and go back to old ones, and you never get a sense that things are being stretched out. There’s just always something to do.

I’ll also take a moment to note that LGBT and gender themes are interestingly explored, and, dating from the first book, before it was cool. And Flewelling gets better as she goes. There’s an early incident best described as a magic roofies at work that everyone pretty much finds funny, because rape is funny when it’s female on male. It seems to me that in the later books that wouldn’t have flown. Writers generally grow in skill. While I try not to judge an author on her or his politics unless there’s some really egregious soapboxing going on (insert your favorite example here), I find it interesting to see the writer get better at the whole being a cool person thing, too.

So that’s Nightrunner. Go and read it. And if you have read it, immediately acquire Glimpses.

What is Glimpses? An awesome idea. I wish more series that I got into had a similar project. Glimpses is a book of short stories that fill in gaps between books or in characters’ history. There are always things that aren’t in books for a reason, that the reader doesn’t have any business knowing, and then there’s stuff that you desperately want to know because you love the world and its people and suddenly it’s in your hands! Glimpses holds two stories from Seregil’s past, one from Alec’s, and one that’s pretty much just a missing scene from Stalking Darkness.

(It also contains a glimpse of the next Nightrunner book. I have not read it. Early peeks drive me nuts. But if you like those, by all means, enjoy. I’ll just go back and compare once my copy of Casket of Souls is in hand.)

Glimpses also is richly illustrated, entirely by fans. Flewelling has always been awesome about her many admirers, and there’s a lovely gallery of art on her website, but seeing the work in print is even better. It’s a fascinating way to see into all your fellow readers’ imaginations and I loved it. Sometimes I just flip through and look at them.

And, last but not least, Glimpses contains erotica, oh, three times out of four. Two instances are of homosexual male sexy times, and one is heterosexual. If you’re into erotica, I have it on good authority that this is fine stuff. I’m an odd case in that I just consider sex scenes to be character development, and the characters are awesome enough that I care about their romances. (Even Alec’s dad, who succumbed to tragic offscreenitis before the events of Luck in the Shadows and has only ever appeared in memory and in his story here.)

Nightrunner. It’s an ongoing series of fortunate events, and its author gave us all the gift of some fantastic little moments that would otherwise have interrupted the flow of all the swashbuckling. When you love a place, you want every chance to come back. The books are funny and they’re grim. They’re exciting and they’re tense. There are horrors and wonders and everyone should really just come with me to Rhiminee to meet everyone there. Bring snacks.

(As a disclaimer, my younger sister objects to her characterization as a Ginger Waifling. This, I suppose, is because she is, in fact, a tall and brown-haired sort of person, and is not built and colored along roughly the same lines as a leprechaun, as is her elder.)

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