9 October 2018
"The Lords of Midnight" started life as a computer game, originally released in 1984 for the ZX Spectrum. I'd remember it and its sequel, Doomdrak's Revenge, with a great deal of affection - if you were to ask me the best game I played on the Spectrum, it'd probably be a straight fight between the two of them. The game was adapted, over the years, for a number of other platforms - obviously the Commodore 64 and the Amstrad back in the 80s, then for DOS and more recently for Android and iOS. There had been rumours, on and off, that a book based on the game would be released; it finally arrived in 2018, wrtten by Drew Wagar.
The land of Midnight has been under the control of Doomdark for many years. Thanks to him, the land endures an unending winter, its people only managing to eke out an existance. His powers are wrapped up on his Ice Crown, an item that no ordinary man may hold, and the Ice Fear he sends out sees the bravest warrior quail. Now, with the Winter Solstice approaching, his powers are at theirgreatest. Divisions have grown between the two races that live there, the Fey and the Free, and nowadays they keep pretty much to themselves. Luxor, a minor Lord of the Free, had fought bravely in the last war against Doomdark, a victory that weakened the Witchking somewhat. However, the Free are well aware it's only a matter of time before Doomdark regroups and tries once more to crush all resistance.
Early in the book, Luxor is summoned to the Tower of the Moon for a meeting with Rothrorn the Wise. It's a summons he cannot really ignore - none of the Wise have been seen in many years, all of them hiding locked within their Towers. The Wise are powerful, respected, possibly feared a little - but they're not popular, having failed to provide any assistance in the fight against Doomdark. The messenger who brought news of the meeting was Corleth the Fey, who'd fought alongside Luxor in the last war against Doomdark. They'd clearly been close once, although things have cooled somewhat since as the Fey and the Free have drifted apart. Luxor, his squire Morkin and Corleth travel together to the Tower of the Moon, none of them knowing what to expect.
The meeting brings news that was was both unexpected and unwelcome. It appears that Rorthrorn, alone out of of all the Wise, is willing to help on this occasion. Doomdark is ready to bring Midnight to heel, and his armies are already moving outwards - worryingly this is much sooner than the Lords of the Free had expected and they're not properly prepared. There is, however, a litle good news. Luxor, to his own surprise, is the last in line of the House of the Moon - one of the great houses of Midnigt from days of old. He will therefore be able to use the Moonring, one of the Midnight's ancient War Rings. It gives him the power of command over those loyal to him, allowing him to see what they see and to communicate with them, no matter what distance between them. More than that, he learns that Morkin is actually his son, the product of a liasion with a Fey lady. Part free, part Fey, the Ice Crown therefore has no power over Morkin and, as a result, he will be able to destroy it. The War of the Solstice has begun, and Luxor, Morkin, Rorthron and Corleth will each play a key role.
This is a book I enjoyed hugely, though part of that probably springs from the affection I had for the game and the nostalgia it inspired. I suspect that the majority of people who pick up the book will be like me, people who enjoyed playing the game at a younger age. (Reading the book, though, did give me a few hints on general game-play too; I haven't actually played it in quite some time, but I'd be tempted to re-visit it now). I'd imagine, though, that your average fan of the fantasy genre will also enjoy it. The game originally came with a short novella, setting up the scene before starting to play. It's been a while since I read it, but I suspect there were a few tweaks for the book. (There seemed to be a certain level of distrust between Luxor, Rothrorn and Corleth at the start of this book that I don't remember picking up on in the novella. Morkin's first meeting with Fawkrin also came much later here than it did there). Beyond that, there were a few surprises. I'd always taken a simple, straightforward view of the characters - I'd pictured all of the Fey and the Free as being brave, honourable, noble and good. The Utarg, meanwhile, I'd seen as being proud and independent, but essentially a decent sort. That isn't necessarily how they're all portrayed in the book. There's a new character for the book too, one who wasn't in the game : the Lady of Silence, who was a great addition. Wagar has pictured things a little differently to how I did as a teenager - for example, physically, the Utarg is very different to how I pictured. Farflame, meanwhile, has now become my favourite character. Absolutely recommended for fans of the game.