Book Reviews DNF Books

Did Not Finish: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

So, last week, Ana talked about a few books she tried to read this past month, but could not finish. I really, really loathe DNFs. I try to muscle through books as much as I can – but sometimes, sometimes one just has to accept defeat and do the unthinkable…putting the book down.

Such is my case with The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe.

Title: The Heir of Night

Author: Helen Lowe

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Eos (US) / Orbit UK
Publication Date: October 2010
Paperback: 480 Pages

If Night falls, all fall . . .

In the far north of the world of Haarth lies the bitter mountain range known as the Wall of Night. Garrisoned by the Nine Houses of the Derai, the Wall is the final bastion between the peoples of Haarth and the Swarm of Dark—which the Derai have been fighting across worlds and time.

Malian, Heir to the House of Night, knows the history of her people: the unending war with the Darkswarm; the legendary heroes, blazing with long-lost power; the internal strife that has fractured the Derai’s former strength. But now the Darkswarm is rising again, and Malian’s destiny as Heir of Night is bound inextricably to both ancient legend and any future the Derai—or Haarth—may have.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

How did I get this book: Purchased a copy


I have had my eye on The Heir of Night for a long time – since before its release in October last year, this has been a book on my radar. I liked the “dark is rising” conflict, the young protagonists, the traditional setting, and heck, there’s a blurb from Robin freakin’ Hobb on the cover talking about the awesome worldbuilding. How could I resist?

Unfortunately – and as much as it pains me to say it – I simply could not get into this book. The Heir of Night and I, for some pernicious scheme of the universe, are incompatible. The story is familiar: in a traditional fantasy setting (with a sci-fi twist), the blooded nobles of the House of Night hold their keep against the agents of evil and chaos. Though magic is available in this world, any of the blood born with magical abilities are shunned, for the Nine noble Houses of the Derai have suffered civil war, death and destruction for the follies of those nobles with too much power (well, sort of). Those with ability are either turned out and ostracized, or sent to the priesthood to develop their talents (sort of…), and any blooded heir must immediately become disowned.

The current Heir of Night, Malian, has always been a high-spirited and curious child, and one night while exploring the “old keep” (because there are two keeps, and one of them has been sealed off and declared off limits because it’s old and haunted) she manages to pull a Spock-like mindmeld with some golden voiced entity that tells her to wake up the new keep and warn everyone about invading Darkswarm soldiers (some kind of werebeast, I think?), which she can do – but it exposes her as incredibly magically talented. She runs into an apprentice priest boy (who also is of the blood from a different house, but has been kicked out because of his own magical talent) and together they hide from the invaders in the old keep, whilst waiting for help from the new keep. While hiding, Malian (with the help of golden voice) does mental battle with with the Darkswarm mind-vampire and nearly gets herself killed. Meanwhile, everyone in the new keep has heard her telepathic warning, and does battle against the invading foes. When Malian is discovered missing, her father, the otherwise cold Earl of Night, fears the worst – the loss of his heir, either to magical talent or invaders is an unforgivable loss. Malian, of course, is safe, but not for long. Receiving warning from the mysterious voice, and after some trippy dreamwalking excursion in which she discovers that she is the centuries-foretold hero of the Derai, Malian and her friend must leave the comfort of the keep, to fulfill their destinies. And this is where I gave up (approximately page 260 or so).

The thing is, The Heir of Night has a lot of things that I should theoretically like. There’s the very dense, very traditional, type of setting, what with the envoys of the night and pigheaded nobility, and foretold hero of the ages, and magic, and warrior women, and all that jazz. There’s also a cool science fiction aspect to the fantasy (reminiscent of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy), with the Derai arriving from the stars (but having since lost that technology).

The thing is, I simply couldn’t get into ANYTHING with this book, from the packed-in prose to the world setting to the two-dimensional characters. I found my attention constantly wandering, and I had no feel for who these people were (they all suffered from fantasyname-itis[1. You know what I mean. In quick succession early in the book we are introduced to Malian, Jiron, Nhairin, Lannorth, Teron, Rowan Birchmoon, and Korriya. That’s a whole lot of made up names with no context. It’s hard to keep them all straight (especially since there’s no dramatis personae, and since the names are of the fantasy persuasion (i.e. impossible to spell, sometimes impossible to pronounce, and infinitely harder to keep straight in one’s mind)]), or why I should I care for them. There were moments of interest, and I wouldn’t mind the traditionalism of the story so much (even if it is very much the aforementioned Friedman meets P.C. Hodgell’s Godstalker Books) if the characters were there. But they aren’t. The two child protagonists sound like everyone else in the book, and it doesn’t help that Malian, the titled Heir of Night naturally has Anakin Skywalker levels of midichlorians in her bloodstream in terms of magical prowess (despite the fact that the bloodline and magical abilities have supposedly thinned out significantly over the centuries). There’s such a large cast that no one is fully developed, and every character blends into the next – then again, maybe this gets resolved later in the book.

Beyond the lack of any characters to connect with on even a superficial level, the backstory for the world and the houses of the Derai lacked anything truly gripping. It doesn’t help that the betrayal of the houses because of one jealous man’s failing is related entirely in storytelling time info-dump mode.[2. Seriously, the passage begins like this: “Well, if you cannot sleep, why not explain one of your Derai mysteries? Tell me this story of the Great Betrayal, your civil war.” And then he does.]

I’m kind of at a loss at how to articulate my feelings with the book, and I know this commentary is rambling. There are a number of details that I should like about this story, but the execution of the ideas just couldn’t cut it for me. I couldn’t make myself read more, as I couldn’t really muster any excitement for the rest of the book. This could very well just be a personal failing as lots of people seemed to have liked this book – but for whatever weird reason, I could not get into it. I found my attention constantly wandering and…well, it just wasn’t right for me.

Have you read The Heir of Night? Care to make an argument for the story? I’m all ears – and though I’ve given up for now, I’ll keep this one around just in case. For now, it’s my first DNF of the year.

Rating: DNF – but I vow to try some of Helen Lowe’s other work, in the near future

Reading Next: Never Knew Another by J.M. McDermott

You Might Also Like


  • Andrea
    February 10, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Love that first cover though…

  • Lindsay
    February 10, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Sometimes the spell an author casts just doesn’t work on a reader. We’ve all been there. Thank you for a fair-minded and informative review.

  • Rana
    February 10, 2011 at 8:01 am

    The summary you gave is so confusing :S
    I understand your point. It happened to me when I read Graceling, I finished it but couldn’t get into the story

  • Tweets that mention The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Did Not Finish: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe --
    February 10, 2011 at 8:44 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Book Smugglers and The Book Smugglers, rissatoo. rissatoo said: RT @booksmugglers: Did Not Finish: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe – Thea's first DNF of the year […]

  • KMont
    February 10, 2011 at 9:01 am

    DNFs happen to all of us eventually. The book sounds, well, boring. You put in a serious effort though. 260 pages is nothing to sneeze at in terms of giving a book a chance.

  • janicu
    February 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Hmm. I don’t know. I read the first 50 pages and sort of set it aside. I keep planning to pick it back up but it hasn’t happened in a couple of months. I will try again though because I kind of love the premise and the sci-fi aspect to the fantasy (people from outer space? tell me more).

  • Estara
    February 10, 2011 at 9:55 am

    (even if it is very much the aforementioned Friedman meets P.C. Hodgell’s Godstalker Books)

    LOL, when I read your set-up description this was almost exactly what was running through my mind, bar the fact that I haven’t yet read the Coldfire Trilogy.

    There’s still some P.C. Hodgell to read for you, to get the taste of the real deal. :mrgreen:

  • Thea
    February 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Andrea – I love both covers, too!

    Lindsay – Ain’t that the truth. I really, really wanted to like this book too, but…I dunno. It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. The good news is, the book *is* working for a lot of other readers! I do want to try some of this author’s older work (YA, I believe). Just to be completely fair!

    KMont – Aw, thanks dude. You make me feel a little better about giving up on this one. To be honest…it was kind of boring. Life’s too short to struggle through books you really aren’t connecting with, right?

    Janicu – Dude, I hope this book works for you! Definitely pick it up again, and I’ll keep an eye out for your review 🙂 I love all the elements of the story in theory, but I couldn’t get into the execution. Sigh.

    Estara – I TOTALLY thought of you and PC Hodgell when I was reading this book! Lots of similarities, but the Godstalker books had much more of a character connection, which made the books for me. Speaking of, I do need to continue with that series! SO many things to read *headdesk*

  • Kristen
    February 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    As Kmont said, DNFs happen to us all eventually. Like you, I usually struggle through a book even if I’m not enjoying it that much but I had one of my first DNFs in a long time recently as well. I think you did a fantastic job of articulating what didn’t work for you, though – it sounds like a lot of the familiar types of things that can put me off from enjoying a book too (the infodumping, the characters you can’t tell apart because they all have WTF names and no individual personality).

    But ultimately, sometimes a book just doesn’t work for you for whatever reason. We’ve all been there and if you’ve read that much and aren’t enjoying it – well, it would probably have to have the BEST ENDING EVER to be worth the time of finishing. And how likely is that? 😉

  • Estara
    February 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    At some point you’ll have read so much of the bad crack in that particular combination of tropes, that you’ll thirst for the GOOD book crack and then you’ll remember the series is all available in ebook format for instant not-so-good-taste cleaning of the reading palate 😀 – I have no worries 😉

  • Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award 2010 for “The Heir of Night” » Helen Lowe
    December 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    […] Just to keep everything in perspective, Thea of the Book Smugglers romance & speculative fiction review site disliked pretty much everything about Heir, up until ca. page 260 when she out it down in black despair.  You can read the full review here. […]

  • Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award 2010 for “The Heir of Night” » Helen Lowe
    December 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    […] Just to keep everything in perspective, Thea of the Book Smugglers romance & speculative fiction review site disliked pretty much everything about Heir, up until ca. page 260 when she out it down in black despair.  You can read the full review here. […]

Leave a Reply