The White Spell
Lynn Kurland’s Nine Kingdoms books have been personal favorites for many years. The series follows the surviving children of an evil mage and how they’ve rebuilt their lives after a catastrophic event ripped their family apart. The previous three trilogies in the series focused on good men and women having to defend the realm from dark magic. In The White Spell that formula comes with a bit of a twist when a bad man is forced to do some good.
Following in the dark footsteps of his sire, Acair of Ceangail has created a reputation for himself as one of the most powerful black mages in the Nine Kingdoms. Only a year earlier, he had nearly collected all the magic of several kingdoms for himself before he was thwarted by his half-brother and the power was returned. Rather than facing some kind of trial by the people affected by his actions, Acair is given the more humbling task of visiting those he had wronged in order to apologize. As the book opens, Acair has visited most of the noble houses but absolutely refuses to visit the kingdom of the Dwarfs or to meet with their king. The two mages guiding Acair’s journey tell him to either make his appearance at the Dwarf court or he can live for a thousand years without his magic. Never one to simply accept the terms of others, Acair negotiates his sentence down from a century without his power to a single year of living as a normal mortal man.
The new agreement is contingent on Acair never explicitly telling anyone who he is or the true extent of his power. What keeps him from simply refusing his penance is a dark spell that is tethered to him like a constant companion that will kill him instantly if he attempts to do any magic. A second condition of his sentence is that he must work to earn his keep. He is told to apply at the renowned stables of Briàghde in the port town of Sàraichte. Acair discovers rather quickly that working with one’s hands without the benefit of spells or magical transformations is more difficult than he imagined. The people he encounters are joyless, with the owner of the stables being a pretentious ass and the workers having long since lost any pride in their jobs with the notable exception of the lone female stable hand.
Léirsinn of Sàraichte learned the hard way to keep her head down and be as unobtrusive as possible around her uncle while working in his stables. When she lost her family years ago she had hoped to find a loving refuge with her grandfather in his home but that dream was destroyed before it began when he was struck with a mysterious illness. Now, Léirsinn works for her uncle until she can afford to leave the dreary town of Sàraichte and take her grandfather to someone who might heal him. Her only happiness comes from the time she spends training thoroughbred horses and seeing the reputation of the Briàghde stable rise due to her efforts even though she’ll never receive the credit.
Lately, strange happenings at Briàghde have made Léirsinn more uncomfortable than usual and increased her urgency to get her and her grandfather out. Her uncle has been entertaining several visitors with a very dark presence around them and he’s gone out of his way to be cruel to Léirsinn. She also begins noticing pools of shadow cropping up in the gardens of her uncle’s home and later within the city of Sàraichte. The shadows exist unnoticed by everyone else and the unusual reaction of those who naïvely walk into them scares her. Léirsinn cannot understand what the shadows are but she knows enough to avoid them.
When Acair first sees Léirsinn’s odd walking pattern around the stable grounds it pricks at his curiosity enough for him to confront the beautiful redhead. Her confusion about the nature of the shadows is perfectly clear, but what surprises Acair more is how she refuses to believe they are magical in nature. To her, the idea of a mage – no matter if they use good or black magic – is the stuff of fantasy stories. Unable to tell her that mages, magic and all of those fantastic tales are real due to his ever-present guardian spell, Acair decides to take a more academic approach to learning the nature of the shadows by deliberately stepping into one. What he experiences rips at his soul and he understands there is a darker force at work than any of the mischief he’s pulled off himself.
As evidence of more black magic begins appearing in Sàraichte, Acair realizes that it is no longer safe for him to remain in town while he is restricted from using his power. In an unusual show of protectiveness he convinces Léirsinn to leave with him for her own safety. Together the reluctant partners begin a journey to track down the mage who placed the killing spell on Acair in the hopes it can be removed and also to discover who is creating the shadows and stop them before their true evil purpose can be unleashed.
Every good fantasy story begins with a quest and The White Spell takes its time revealing exactly what Acair and Léirsinn will have to face down together. Ms. Kurland’s writing style is very leisurely so the pacing of things such as character development or descriptions of places and the magic used by different regions can be a little slow. The story doesn’t quite hit its stride until the mid-point, at which both characters realize the true threat of the dark shadows. I’d be hesitant to say that the descriptions are enough to fill in all of the backstory for someone who has never read a Nine Kingdoms book before – the details are important. The use of magic as an everyday thing for certain characters helps the reader believe that sometimes a horse can be much more than a horse, or that a dark mage can sometimes be much more complicated under the surface.
I absolutely fell in love with Acair and appreciate how he has grown from a rather forgettable villain in the previous trilogy to a real hero in his own story. Acair is the youngest of a brood of bastard sons sired by the most evil mage in the Nine Kingdoms, Gair of Ceangail. All that he knew from his youth and even into his own adulthood was that his father was a dark mage and that dark magic was his birthright. Having to live without creating dark spells or using his gifts for mischief forces Acair to look at other aspects of his legacy without that stain of evil. The magic in his blood from his mother and his father’s parents is neither dark nor light but rather a great force that can be wielded in many ways. There is an undiscovered balance within Acair, a fact that is revealed to Léirsinn on their journey, and it’s apparent to everyone except the man himself.
The White Spell ends on a cliffhanger but it’s also a very promising beginning for Acair and Léirsinn’s journey. My anticipation for the next installment is already at a high level and for the next twelve months it will be fun to speculate about who is behind the dark magic and how they will be defeated by a reluctant hero and a powerless woman.