I was introduced to the Warlocks of Talverdin when I was sent The Shadow Road (2010), fourth in the series, to review for Resource Links magazine. I was so impressed by that novel— not even having read the first three—that I immediately bought the series. I have since read all four three times, and thus was perhaps lying to myself when I told myself that I had to reread them all to review them for this blog.
Rereading Nightwalker, I was once again impressed by K. V. Johansen’s narrative abilities. Certainly, she has created a world that is internally consistent, as all good fantasy worlds must be; more than that, though, she has created a unique world that harks back to fantasy classics such as Lord of the Rings only in that narrative ability, not in content, nor in characterization.
At first, Nightwalker seems a traditional medieval-style fantasy, with the young orphan Maurey (although we do not initially know his name, as the text is presented in the first person) caught as less than a servant at the royal university in Dunmorra. Slowly, artfully revealed, we learn his tale: betrayed by the corrupt and power-hungry chancellor and his brother when Maurey’s self-appointed guardian died, his tuition and legacy were stolen, and he was reduced to the nothingness we find him in. His economic ostracization is compounded by his physical appearance: he is neither fair nor swarthy, as most humans, but white skinned with black hair and eyes: physical characteristics of the race of Talverdin, the “warlocks” from whom the land was wrested by force centuries earlier. This political dynamic is one of the primary powers of Johansen’s series, for her world both is and is not our own.
The geography of Johansen’s fantasy world resembles Europe and England far too closely to be accidental. Eswiland is England, invaded by the fair-haired Northerners long since; the Ronish Empire is the Iberian peninsula, still peopled by darker-skinned inhabitants; Berbarany is North Africa… But the comparison is never explicit, and the cultures only loosely parallelled; nonetheless, racial and cultural prejudices motivate many of the characters in Johansen’s world, as in ours. In the initial invasion, the Talverdin people were overcome and pushed west, beyond the mountains, where they now live protected by spells to prevent humans from entering what are left of their lands. An emissary of peace just before Maurey’s birth solidified the political antagonism, when the Queen of Dumorra, married as a child to a much older King, abandoned her station to become the lover of the Talverdin prince. The racial antagonisms, the political intrigues, the balance between personal desire and royal obligation are all handled extremely deftly: never so much as when Annot abandons her birthright to defend Maurey against the blatant and deadly prejudices of her relatives, or when Maurey, realizing his own position within the greater political mechanism, must choose between his noble obligation and the life of a new friend. Johansen does not succumb to the popular tendency to create a happy ending where expediency demands a different choice. That the novel ends well does not feel like authorial manipulation so much as the natural result of strong characters making the right personal and political choices. In such writing lies the greatness that we remember of Aragorn, of Faramir (in the book, not the movie!), of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth… Some novels inspire the reader to aspire to ethical nobility: Nightwalker is one of these.