There is a lot of music in The Wars of Light and Shadow – not only is the series’ main protagonist a preternaturally gifted masterbard, whose music is capable of working something very close to magic and is a recurring important plot element through all of the novels, not only does Janny Wurts make constant use of musical imagery and occasionally even structure (like at the end of Peril’s Gate where Elaira’s repeated “Cry, Mercy” serves as a kind of pedal point to Arithon’s ordeal) – but in a sense, the novels are music, in so far as they are very aware of the tonal quality of language, their sentences composed with an ear for prose rhythm and melody.
In addition, there are the larger-than-life characters with their tendency to grand, sweeping gestures, the high-strung feelings and the even more high-strung language – all of which combine to give the series an operatic feel. In its best moments, Janny Wurts’ prose grips the reader with the emotional impact and powerful intensity of an aria. The musical work it is most reminiscent of, though, (and which, although it is operatic does not strictly speaking have arias) due to its grand scope, the way it entwines the mythical with the intimate and its use of leitmotifs is Richard Wagners Ring des Nibelungen. The War of Light and Shadow is not (unlike Stephen Donaldson who tried tries for the science fiction genre with his Gap Cycle) an adaption of Wagner’s work, but it does seem to share some features with it – and considering how Janny Wurts not only wrote it, but also did the covers for some editions, there maybe even be some ambition towards a Gesamtkunstwerk (and one can’t help but wonder whether some of Arithon’s tunes have actually been set to music…).
After the focused perspective of Peril’s Gate, the view widens into a broad panorama again in Traitor’s Knot, we find out what it was Davien wanted from Arithon, and we get one of the rare instances of pure, unmitigated evil in the series. There is only a brief breathing pause at the start of the novel, then things start moving again, events retaining the momentum they have gathered in the previous volumes of this arc and leading into what promises to be a grand finale.