This novel is a sequel to a novel I previously reviewed. There are unavoidable spoilers for Nightlord: Shadows in the book review below. If you wish to avoid these spoilers and read instead about Nightlord: Shadows, you may find it here.
Whited’s staple method of telling a fascinating story shines through in the third installment of his Nightlord series, Orb. Eric is freed from his own dark influences, the same demonic forces that seemed to have overwhelmed him at the end of Shadows. With the help of steadfast companions Firebrand, Bronze, and Tort, Eric escapes from his mind and retakes his body. He immediately leaves Rethven through a portal to another universe, and that’s where the meat of the story really begins.
The new universe Eric finds himself in is much less magical than the universe of Rethven, and he soon finds that even simple spells require large amounts of effort to draw in enough magical energy. This new universe presents Eric with a tremendous problem: with little magic, how is he to get back to Rethven?
I have recognized in Shadows and Orb Eric’s typical reaction to a life-altering, potentially dangerous situation: to go with it. While Whited is still very careful to make it clear to the reader that Eric is not omnipotent or omnipresent, he does display Eric’s exceptional ability to recalculate and reevaluate his choices. Eric assumes the guise of Vlad Smith, an eccentric art and antique collector, in this new universe, as he works to make it back to Rethven.
The universe Eric encounters is as rich in its descriptions as Rethven, and its mere existence offers the opportunity for the setting in the Nightlord series to be as varied as Whited desires. Eric learns that the new universe he escaped to is one that is parallel to his own Earth, though further advanced in time and some technology. A certain search engine and technology monolith is responsible for the majority of transportation in this universe, but other than the notable lack of automotive industries, many things are familiar to both Eric and the readers. The Internet is the Cyber in this universe, and online shopping is still very alive and well.
Whited does an excellent job of making it clear to the reader that Eric is not only a stranger in a strange land, but a man who is searching for more than a way back to a place he had come to love. Eric settles into a home in this new universe and ekes out a living for himself, but as much as he tries to pass notice longer enough to make it back to Rethven, many forces converge on him. He escapes these forces, narrowly, and must uproot his life again.
The challenges Eric goes through in Orb may seem less dire than those he faced in Shadows, but Eric has lost some of his confidence, both in himself and in his abilities. He meets a new companion in the character Mary, a vampire from the new universe he encounters. He takes her under his wing, teaching her magic and how to make the most of her power, and at the same time their relationship blossoms in interesting ways. It is Mary that makes the most difference in Orb, and therefore the most difference in Eric. In Rethven, Eric’s opinions and beliefs were often accepted at face value, or even revered as divine, but in this universe Mary challenges many of Eric’s thoughts about himself, his friends and companions, and the many worlds he’s lived in.
Whited uses Mary – and other characters – to stimulate Eric’s growth as a character, and it results in some of the most interesting reading I’ve had in a while. Sometimes it can seem as if Eric is hung up on some thought or concept, and that’s because he is. Whited dares to follow Eric’s development in the first person, exactly as it comes, and his efforts are rewarded. Orb is more than 650 pages long, but every word is important to the narrative and, ultimately, to Eric’s development. Every word is also extremely readable, and I found myself returning the novel even after I had read it to reread some passages, or to reconsider a thought Whited, through Eric, had provoked. The same unique characteristics that made Nightlord: Shadows such an enjoyable and unique novel can be found in Nightlord: Orb, and then some. The novel ends with almost as many questions as answers, if not more. I was left with a craving for the worlds that Whited crafted in his Nightlord series, and while I anxiously wait for another installment, I will recommend the series to any fantasy fan and any avid reader. In this market of ephemeral stories and forgettable characters, Whited’s novels offer the selective reader much, much more.