I find myself torn every time I go back and read Janny Wurts, especially any of the volumes of Wars of Light and Shadow.
On the one hand, I like her characters very much. I like the texture of the world she’s made. I like the story itself.
When I can winkle it out of the thicket of adjectives, that is.
And that’s the first sticking point. Wurts is a good storyteller but not a skillful writer. It makes me tear my hair. She’s in love with descriptive phrases, especially ones that make no actual sense. Now that can be done well, and I’m very fond of the way Barbara Hambly, for example, makes occasional use of it, but Wurts takes it way, way too far. It’s lot like her italics, which some kind person should take away from her before she hurts herself. Her crises tend to be very artificial, and, really, there’s only so much Cosmic Misunderstanding I can take before I throw up my hands with frustration. The stories have a lot of pathos, but the narrative renders it all plastic.
That isn’t the part that makes me twitch the most, though. No, the part that makes me twitch the most is the Sledgehammer of Scary Morality. That’s the real other hand.
Wurts has created a world in which humans have no right to exist. While humans have much vaunted free will, there, if they screw up they’ll be wiped out of existence. Screwing up is defined pretty much as any interference with unsullied Nature–so, eg, entering an industrial age and gaining any technology beyond muscle-power, because this would, of course, Blight The Land.
Corollary to this, she has created a world in which technology is explicitly identified with humanity’s downfall and self-destruction. Back to the land for the humans, because that’s the only salvation! Of course, when humans are biddable there’s magic which, despite not being of any use in daily life, somehow makes up for everything. Just by, you know, existing.
She has created a world with a biologically determined ruling class, in which heredity infallibly produces enlightenment. This ruling class currently lives as Noble Savages with, as an added bonus, a racial past that includes castles and courtliness and probably roses. Two for the price of one.
And just to round things out, she has produced a world in which the wizardly guardians of God’s Natural And Unsullied Order are seven old men while the group of Misguided, Selfishly Humanocentric And Arrogant magicians are exclusively women. This seriously undermines the gender equality she allows those characters in less critical walks of life.
Those, and not the italic melodrama, are the real things that make it impossible for me to read a whole volume without putting it down and reading something with less species-and-gender self-hate in it for a bit. Wurts is a perfect example of one of fantasy’s Really Bad Habits: the pretense that the absence of technology can somehow redeem humanity’s ravening nature.
The only thing that can redeem humanity’s ravening nature is for humanity to knock it off. The presence or absence of technology may well speed the process of whatever we’re doing, but we can’t shove responsibility for our actions off onto our tools. That just obscures the real issues.
Kind of like Wurts’ adjectives.