Have you ever looked at a book cover and known exactly what’s in store? These books are primarily paperbacks in the science fiction, fantasy, and, most notoriously, romance genres. However, there are occasions when you sit down with your new (used) paperback book with its exceedingly cheesy cover, and you are pleasantly surprised by its contents. This happened to me when reading Lyn Flewelling’s Luck in the Shadows: Book One of the Nightrunner Series.
Although my neighbor, whom I trust more than anyone to give me quality fantasy book recommendations, had recommended Luck in the Shadows, I was skeptical upon finding the first four of the series at the local Edward McKay’s Used Books. They were definitely not the worst looking of the shelves upon shelves of sci-fi and fantasy books, but they were still almost laughable: their covers pictured scenes in back alleys, in battle (with some obvious magic happening in the background), and one even depicted a young man with flowing locks lounging in front of a backdrop of ships, a very serious expression on his handsome face.
Thus far, these books don’t sound like they would win any prizes, right? Well, your mom always told you not to judge a book by its cover, and in this case it is actually true.
A little context: I love to read, especially fantasy, and especially when I’m at school – a statement that makes me sound crazy. How many college students actually have time to read anything other than assigned readings?! Trust me, I know how much easier it is to watch Netflix before bed than it is to read a few pages of a book. However, I always need to have at least one (and sometimes four) “for fun” book in the midst of all the “have to” reading, otherwise I might just go insane. Up until the end of last summer, I had Westeros and A Song of Ice and Fire to keep me company, but alas, all good things must come to an end (but George R.R. could get to the end of the series a little bit quicker, if you me. Or any other Game of Thrones fan). So there I was, book-less and hopeless as the new school year began. I made it through the first semester by re-reading some of my old favorites (Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet, for example), but as winter rolled around and I headed back home to New England, I knew I needed and engrossing new world to get lost in. So off I trekked to my neighbor’s house, where I received the first book of a new series and the recommendation of The Nightrunner Series.
It was not until the beginning of the next semester that I got around to purchasing the first four of the series (Luck in the Shadows, Stalking Darkness, Traitor’s Moon, and Shadows Return), and boy, was I in for a surprise. These books sucked me in almost immediately and made me feel as lost and confused as one of the main characters, Alec, who is wrongly imprisoned when the story begins. He doesn’t know who his enemies are and who he can trust as multiple cellmates are cycled through, the final one of which is his eventual partner in crime and love, Seregil, who breaks him out of prison. The world in which they live unfolds in a very comprehensive way, replete with warring countries, thievery, royal secrets, magic, and, an essential of any good fantasy novel, horses. The two protagonists meet and introduce us to a myriad of compelling characters, many of whom you want to adopt or be adopted by…. However, the best part of this series is not any of the afore mentioned things, but rather the subtle and wonderful Queerness of the main characters.
For a Queer girl who grew up in the liberal Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, reading about a world in which homosexual relationships (both physical and emotional) are very nearly as accepted as heterosexual relationships, Luck in the Shadows was a definite breath of fresh air. There are plenty of fantasy sagas that feature strong female leads that break the stereotype of “femininity” (Song of the Lioness Quartet’s Alanna of Trebond and Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger are two prominent examples), but there is rarely a fantastical world in which non-heteronormative relationships are common and accepted. Furthermore, there is nothing exploitative about Seregil and Alec’s relationship – there is no unnecessary and out of place sex scene in order to placate the appetite of the reader, and most importantly, their relationship develops in a beautifully cohesive way that has the audience rooting for them for quite some time before they get together (much like Luke and Lorelei from Gilmore Girls…).
The Nightrunner series is an excellent “bit of light reading”, as out friend Hermione Granger would say. It is also perfect for a beach or mountain vacation, so if you are looking for a good escape over the summer, keep Seregil and Alec – and all the horses – in mind. Even better, there are seven books, so you won’t post-series depression too quickly!