Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

The Heir of Night

a review by Nalini Haynes

The Heir of Night is Malian, a 13 year old girl who is the only child of the Earl of Night. Night is a house in the feudal sense, and part of the Derai Alliance who man the Wall, keeping the Swarm, their sworn enemy, at bay. Malian has had a solitary upbringing, surrounded by adults in a house kept separate from her austere father.

Kalan was of the warrior caste until, at the age of 7, he manifested priestly powers (magical powers), when he was cast out by his family (the House of Blood) and sent to the Temple in the House of Night. When the House of Night is attacked by the Swarm, Kalan was skiving off. Caught behind the enemy, Kalan tried unsuccessfully to reach others in the temple to warn them. Kalan’s efforts led to his meeting Malian, who had fled after being warned. This adventure begins a friendship that is cemented when they set off on another journey.

Lowe has developed an incredibly detailed backstory, so detailed I went looking to see if she’d written previous books in the series. This is the first in the series. At one point I felt a bit overloaded by the back story, but this is brief. Later Lowe develops the rhythm of her story, unfolding aspects of the backstory naturally. This gives her characters great depth as well as huge potential for her storytelling in the subsequent books. Lowe has left many questions unanswered in this story, with definite hints that more will be revealed.

During the story a variety of fantasy elements are introduced. There are priests and shamans who have magical powers as seers, shields and influence over weather. Portals seem fashionable this season, and are included in this story. Sometimes people are physically in the alternate plane, sometimes only psychically and sometimes the portals act as teleports. There is also a land that is sentient and asleep, but wakes to teleport two people. In my opinion there is too much unnecessary emphasis on the magical elements of the story. Lowe’s story has such richness and depth that, in my opinion, using too much of a focus on magic and too many elements of magic detracts from the focus of her story. However, The Heir of Night is still a good story.

Reading this story I was not sure who the target market was. Malian is 13 and Kalan is 14, so it may have been targeted at that teen audience. In the notes at the end of the book, however, it is noted that The Heir of Night is an adult book. This leads me to wonder how much time will pass during the remaining books in this trilogy, and how the story will develop. This particular book has no explicit sex scenes or drug usage, and I would have loved this book as a young teen, so I’m thinking this is ageless. Depending on the content of the sequels, I may revise my opinion of a reading age upwards however.

This is a great fantasy novel and for a first novel it is brilliant. Helen Lowe is definitely a fantasy author to watch in the future.

NOTE: The Heir of Night won the Morningstar Award in 2012; Helen is one of a short list of women who’ve won and the first New Zealander,  congratulations!

This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 2, January 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.