The latest — and apparently, the last — book in the Nightrunner series, Shards of Time is a fun romp that is nevertheless showing the strain of having six books behind it. I don’t think Flewelling is getting bored with her world, because her creativity and nuance in the setting continued to surprise me, but I do think she’s gotten bored with the characters. Alec and Seregil seem to have converged, personality-wise; there are no particular choices or actions they take that the other one (or Micum, or Klia, or Thero) wouldn’t have. Mostly it’s because everyone’s character arcs have already been completed — which makes this a good time for her to put the coda on the series and embark on something new.
I’ve discussed the push-pull in romance writing before, how sexual tension demands resolution (and gets ridiculous when authors try to drag it out too long) but how hard it is to sustain reader interest once the relationship has been consummated. The Nightrunner series, in my opinion, is one that takes a pretty bad hit when it loses the sexual-tension component — once their relationship is established, Flewelling’s got nuthin more to say about it, which forces the rest of the series to shift to “spy games with protagonists who kiss occasionally to remind you that they’re a couple.” Consequently, the later books have some interesting plots, but almost none of the emotional investment of the earlier ones.
I still read ‘em, because I like my fantasy spy games and queer protagonists please me — and this book in particular had an intriguing plotline, with Alec and Seregil dispatched to investigate a murder on an island that is casually and comprehensively haunted. (Flewelling’s ghosts are genuinely unsettling and creepy-cool.)
Emotional engagement: 2/5
Setting: 4/5 (just for you, Sophia)
One last thing: pause for a moment and remember what it means that the first Nightrunner book came out in 1996. You know how much gay fantasy fiction there was in 1996? Spoiler: not much. The forerunners to Luck in the Shadows were still operating under the conventional wisdom that anything gayer than subtext wouldn’t sell, or that if you did have a gay relationship, you couldn’t make it the centerpiece.
When I was first putting together the booklist, I was continually frustrated by books that had been recced for their gay content only to find that it was so peripheral as to hardly even be present. Luck in the Shadows was one of the first to be like, Nope, they’re here, they’re queer, and they’re playing your fantasy spygames. (And nope, they’re not gonna die tragically.) So regardless of how well you like the series, remember that the steady uptick in queer, published SFF is due in part to the success of the Nightrunner series. Flewelling was the one who bucked precedent and showed that you could tell a good story with gay protagonists, and that people would read it because of them, not in spite of them.
So, my hat goes off to you, Lynn Flewelling — godspeed, and I look forward to your next creative endeavor.