The Nightrunner Series books 1-3
‘How old did you say you are?’
‘And you’ve never seen a dragon.’
‘You know I haven’t.’
‘Well, I have,’ Seregil said, swinging up into the saddle again.
‘You said there weren’t any more dragons!’
‘I said there weren’t any more in Skala. I’ve seen them flying under a full moon in winter. I’ve danced at the great Festival of Sakor and tasted the wines of Zengat, and heard mermaids singing in the mists of dawn. I’ve walked the halls of a palace built in a time beyond memory and felt the touch of the first inhabitants against my skin. I’m not talking legend or imagination, Alec, I’ve done all that, and more than I have breath to tell.’
—Lynn Flewelling, Luck in the Shadows
The Nightrunner series was first recommended to me by a friend in high school. I remember reading the books greedily between classes, astonished and delighted to find the sorts of relationships I was used to only finding in fanfiction in a real, physical book that had been published by a real, physical publishing company.
The story opens from the point-of-view of Alec, a sixteen year-old orphaned hunter. After being mistakenly arrested as a spy and tortured, he is saved by a mysterious man named Seregil.
After Alec’s rescue, the story picks up quickly into a plot split between travel and intrigue, the latter of which frequently lands the heroes in mortal peril.
The worldbuilding is well-done from the start. The way that different cultures are described is particularly interesting. Flewelling emphasizes the differences between cultures through point-of-view; details show up when they’re new and relevant, and fade away once they become familiar.
Good worldbuilding, for me, feels like the difference between a tightrope and a hammock. Even good worldbuilding should leave holes, but it shouldn’t feel precarious—it’s easier for me to become immersed in a story when I have the sense that the author knows what they’re doing.
I could feel the solid reality of the world Alec and Seregil live in, through the attention paid to details like politics, medicine, and the sheer physicality of Flewelling's world. Set against a backdrop of magic, prophecy, and improbable feats of stealth, it provided a solid basis for the suspension of disbelief.
The world of the Nightrunner series is dynamic and varied, notably in regard to sexuality. For example, Alec is raised in a culture where gay sexuality is frowned upon for not producing children, but in the capital city of Rhíminee, sex is readily for sale for both men and women, seeking either men or women.
These books provide a great example of how to write characters that have interesting adventures, while also happening to be queer. In this case, both of the main characters are attracted to multiple genders, though modern terminology (and modern expectations) don’t apply. (Seregil’s “interest in women seem[s] marginal at best,” for example, but he still has both male and female lovers.)
The series allows romantic as well as platonic relationships to develop and change over the course of the story. The progression of the main characters’ relationships feels realistic and takes care to make sure that the romantic tension doesn’t feel unbalanced or rushed. Better still, romantic relationships are allowed to keep developing even after they’ve become official.
It’s rare—even in stories that aren’t about queer characters—to see books focus on established relationships, instead of relying on the will-they-or-won't-they romantic tension to push the story forward. There are all sorts of questions to be answered as a relationship develops, and this series delves into those as well.
The first novel, titled Luck in the Shadows, stands reasonably well on its own, but the second book, Stalking Darkness, starts only a short while afterwards. The third, Traitor’s Moon, opens after a bit of a time skip and launches the story into new narrative waters, but I've always found the momentum between books two and three to be impossible to resist.
While Traitor’s Moon lags a bit in terms of pacing and stakes, it still finds its way to a satisfying conclusion. It also continues the series's character development, which is both subtle and satisfying.
Later on, though, it’s worth mentioning that the series gets into some dark territory. Pedophilia, while never depicted, is touched on as a conversational topic more than once. The later books include graphic depictions of sexual assault, and the series doesn't shy away from descriptions of torture.
Trauma and depression play large roles in the lives of the major characters, too. For those familiar with the fantasy genre, I would say it doesn’t fall much outside the range of typical sword-and-sorcery novel fare, but it’s definitely worth a warning.