I don’t remember how I first came across the The Nightrunner Series, likely I was looking for more “mainstream” sci-fi/fantasy which had positive gay or bisexual characters.
Luck In the Shadows, Book 1(Grade A)
Fresh, bright and new for me, I immediately fell in the love with the main character Seregil, an elf exiled from his homeland, like so many other readers around the world his flashing grey eyes, lithe figure and flowing dark hair fully stimulated my imagination.
In the intro book, Luck in the Shadows, along with his newly acquired innocent sidekick in petty crime, an orphan named Alec, and a brawny best friend who happens to be human, a redhead by the name of Micum, they stumble on a magic-laced mystery which threatens the peace of the region. The story was fast-paced, intriguing and fully immersive.
Stalking Darkness, Book 2 (Grade A-)
It continues in Stalking Darkness, where greater evil than they imagined threatens the land, and progressively the relationship between Seregil and Alec, who learns he is half-Elvish, trembles on the peak of total disaster or undying love. When Alec is captured by the bad guy, Seregil realizes how he truly feels, as does Alec. All set around the framework of “small company of do-gooders” vs. “the big, dark bad guy”, Flewelling does it well, though a little predictably, yet readers get their fix of the alternatively light-hearted exuberance of Seregil and deadly seriousness of the death and mayhem he can unleash. It ends in both tragedy and heart-touching affection.
Traitor’s Moon, Book 3 (Grade B-)
Traitor’s Moon, the third installment was considered by some to be the weak link, but I personally found it enjoyable, if I bit uneven. On a mission from this adopted homeland’s queen, Seregil returns to his birth country where he’d been exiled for a terrible crime. His relationship with Alec has been fully realized and explained, tastefully and beautifully by Flewelling.
For those who claim this is soft porn, I am completely puzzled. Though the author describes some moments of interaction which are romantic in nature, there are no sex scenes, though a couple of past tense references which again are innocuous in nature, and no more than the mildest ones you might read about between a man and woman. Honestly, I think these “people” claim soft porn only because it is two men.
Not as exciting as the other books thus far, it is another strong offering, which is necessary in an on-going series. Like even real-time events, you will have crests and lulls, this one is more of a trough, but if you’ve an open-mind and like fantasy, it’s good enough. Operative phrase: “good enough”.
Shadows Return, Book 4 (Grade C)
Into the second set of trilogies: Shadows Return was eagerly anticipated by fans, and though I hadn’t keep up with new releases, and didn’t know it was in the works, as soon as I found out, I high-tailed it to the local hobby shop and bought my copy. Immediately I felt the change of tone almost. It was like looking at the same characters, and knowing it was them, yet their colouring had changed. The hues were off, the reactions seemed out of place.
In this entry, Seregil and Alec are captured and taken deep into enemy territory as slaves, separated and kept for an unknown purpose. The twist in the story comes when the very elf and ex-lover who’d betrayed Seregil years ago, is appears in the story stream. Plus a prophecy given to Alec by an oracle of sorts comes to be fulfilled, to his and Seregil’s consternation and strains their relationship.
Honestly, I wanted the story to be so much more, and the repetitive phrases which too many writers fall into (i.e. Mercedes Lackey) were beginning to creep into the story. Characters reactions, namely Alec’, became less and less believable. Something is missing, some depth of emotional. There are times where Flewelling tries to set the mood to pull your heart strings, but it just comes off as forced. I was left vaguely dissatisfied.
The White Road, Book 5 (Grade D+)
And finally to the latest, The White Road. I sigh considering again the sense of disappointment I felt after reading. Put it in this perspective: the first three books I read each at least four times over again. They were great, especially the first two. Shadows Return and The White Road I read to be up to date in the series, but I won’t be rereading them unless I find myself in a tolerant mood.
In The White Road, we find out more about Alec’ parent’s past, why his mother who was a special type elf was killed by her own clan for bearing a human’s child. We also find out more about the clan who again begin their hunt for the mixed offspring, Alec, and why it is vital from their perspective to have his out of the world. Some have rejoiced this book has more action, and it does, tons of it, but again it seems so forced and improbable!
A further conspiracy is angled at the couple, Seregil and Alec, and their magical “child” (please read Shadows Return to learn how this happens, I don’t give spoilers) who is wanted by a number of parties who wish to use it for their own ends. Hip-hopping from this land to that, attacked, wounded and left for dead over and over again, somehow they keep being healed or saved until you reach the climax of the story which you saw coming a mile away.
I literally feel like the characters I came to know and love became soulless creatures, mannekins positioned this or that way. They no longer glowed. The storyline was predictable, the fights scenes the same or various similar to all others, the repetitive phrases and descriptions nauseatingly obvious. I really felt the way I came to about Mercedes Lackey’s work: too cliché, too generic, too mechanical. They had no life of their own. From extraordinary they became boring, hence my grading.
With Lackey, I felt she was just churning out books to meet deadlines and satisfy a core set of dead-hard fans. They don’t draw newcomers anymore, and though I hate to say it, if I had not read Flewelling’s earlier books, and started in at this one, I would not read any further. I would be sincerely skeptical. I hope they get better again because it’s like losing dear friends to mediocrity. It doesn’t help the character in the cover art, supposed to be Alec, looks like a young Fabio. I really HATED all those romance novels with Fabio and the not-butter commercials! It’s a travesty of fantasy cover art! I had to laugh and give a disappointed shake of my head. Agonizing.
Update: On May 29, 2012 the next book in the series, “Casket of Souls” was released. Unlike when I first began reading the series up until the fourth book where they were considered simply fantasy novels not also labeled with gay and “m/m,” I don’t have the same enthusiasm to read further though I will likely end up doing so at some point.