Gathering of the Lost by Helen Lowe

a review by Nalini Haynes

The Gathering of the Lost is the second book in the Wall of Night series by Helen Lowe. The first, Heir of Night, has been shortlisted for the Morningstar Award 2012, long-listed for the Gemmell Legend Award 2012, winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2011 and the Single Titles Reviewer’s choice award 2010. Helen has also won various awards for her other novel, Thornspell, and her poetry.

Gathering continues the stories of Malian, the heir of the House of Night, and Kalan, a boy about her age of the same race, the Derai. The Derai are a race alien to this world, who landed here while fleeing their enemy the Swarm. The Swarm followed them and continue their pursuit of old conflicts. A pair of heralds, Tarathan and Jehane, arrive at a city only to be caught up in a terrible conflict resulting in a massacre of heralds in that city. Gathering is deceptive in that stories are told using misdirection to conceal the true identity of characters for some time; I’m not going to comment any more on the plot or characters as this would result in spoilers.
Helen’s lyrical prose creates atmosphere, connects the reader to the character and carries the reader ever onward. Just one example – ‘water stippled silver’ reminding me of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty – makes me want to reread Gathering just to revel in the lyrical narrative.

At one point in the story I felt briefly frustrated as I had been introduced to new characters in an apparent disconnect from the previous storylines and hadn’t yet picked up on clues that these new characters may not be who they appeared. Perseverance was well worth while as the deception, including the self-deception of the characters, revealed character development, providing impetus to the plot in addition to conflict.

Unlike Heir, there are sex scenes in Gathering. These are neither explicit nor erotic scenes, but care should be taken when considering giving Gathering to a young reader. Having said that, as Helen says in her interview, there is more explicit ‘action’ readily available on TV. I personally recommend Gathering for anyone of high school age and up, while suggesting that caregivers read Gathering before giving it to a younger audience.
The themes in Gathering were best explored by Helen in her interview: cultural tropes, rigidity versus flexibility of world-view, hubris being one’s own downfall, etcetera.

Gathering is not a book to be read as a stand-alone; in fact, if it’s been a while since you read Heir of Night, I’d recommend reading Heir again before proceeding with Gathering. I found my flawed memory of Heir frustrating as Heir is integral to Gathering.

The design of the physical book is a bit mixed. I far prefer the new style of cover art over the cover art for the original review copy of Heir that I received. The original cover art for Heir looked far more paranormal, vampire-trope in style, than the later cover art. The cover art for my copy of Gathering is in keeping with the second round of cover art for Heir, which is both evocative and implies a fantasy trope without looking tacky like many CGI-style covers. Unfortunately the copy of Gathering I have is half way between a mass market paperback and a trade, with so many words that the print size is closer to mass market. For this reason my enjoyment of the book was subdued and it took a whole week to read Gathering due to eyestrain (note: I have spectacularly poor vision). When the entire series is out, I will treat myself to ebook versions and read the entire series from beginning to end, without any font-size issues. While I realise that my experience is not universal, I am also aware that mass market paperback (MMPB) is not the preferred format for a large number of people; ebooks are replacing the MMPB in the current market for this reason.

The Gathering of the Lost is a must read for anyone who enjoys fantasy and excellent prose, especially if you have a desire to write yourself – there is nothing quite like absorbing the work of a master of the craft.

UPDATE: Heir of Night won the Morningstar Award!