Janny Wurts' "The Wars of Light and Shadows" series begs comparison, in terms of both plot complexity and doorstopper book size, with epic fantasy superstar Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" cycle. Peril's Gate, sixth in a predicted nine-volume saga, rejoins Master of Shadow (and Masterbard) Arithon s'Ffalenn in another headlong flight from his half-brother Lysaer, the Prince of Light.
It's far more than a bad case of sibling rivalry or royal-family infighting that stands between the two men. Born of the same mother to inherit two very different kingdoms, the half-brothers came together thirty years ago to join their antithetical powers in the desperate battle against the invading evil of the Mistwraith. They defeated their otherwordly foe, but at great price -- the Mistwraith laid a final curse of consuming enmity on the princes so that they, gifted with lifespans of five centuries, would war against one another to the death. The nearer the brothers geographically, the exponentially greater their obsession to destroy each other. Throw into the mix a departed super race (the centaur-like Paravians), two opposing sorcerous factions (the mostly male Fellowship and the all-female Koriani), an alliance of self-righteous justice seekers out to destroy every trace of sorcery left in the world, a nearly extinct group of mountain people just as determined to save the magic of the land, and an advancing multitude of wraiths from another world straining to break through the failing mazes and traps held in place by the waning strength of the embattled sorcerers, and you've got yourself one whopper of a fantasy.
The story's scale is not, thankfully, limited to the grandly epic. Plenty of personal drama infuses the lives of the men and women caught up in these greater struggles. Lysaer's estranged son is presumed dead, his embittered second wife missing. Arithon's love can't aid him without indebting him to her ambitious order. The greatest of the Fellowship sorcerers lies very near death, his resources taxed by the desperate attempt to hold the free wraiths (and the trapped Mistwraith) at bay. Two Koriani sorceresses fight for ascendancy in their hierarchy, and their hubris will prove their respective undoings. Most painfully of all, Arithon's "gift" of extreme compassion and empathy will endanger the entire world when he is forced by a great betrayer's magical maze to relive every life lost in this long war he doesn't want with his brother.
While excessive page count and a tendency to high-flown language are as common to epic fantasy as sorcery and swords, Peril's Gate pushes the limits of both. This installment could have lost at least a hundred pages and a whole lot of bombast (there's probably no book in the world, no matter how long, that can comfortably contain repeated uses of words like ignominy, damascened and coass). One extended section of Arithon's difficult journey through memory in Davien's Maze, shared telepathically by his love Elaira, will leave some readers fervently hoping they never see the phrase "cry mercy" again. Yet although it is sometimes obscured by exorbitant description and overblown language, this is, at its heart, a fascinating story of conflicted individuals all certain that they fight for the greater good.