‘The Shadow of What Was Lost’ by James Islington

Initial Rating: Recommended.  (How I Rate Books)

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Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Self-Published, Quest Fantasy, Sword-and-Sorcery, Political Fantasy

Similar books:

  • Wheel of Time – Similar scope and feel
  • Malazan– Similarly deep worldbuilding, (but less cryptic)

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None

Here’s the TL;DR for my review (SPOILERS!):

  • Pros
    • Fantastic Plot
    • The prose was excellent in the ‘simple-but-captivating’ sort of way. No muss, no fuss, just crystal clear and suspension-of-disbeliefing.
    • Plenty of tension, but never too tense.
  • Mixed
    • The protagonists were a mixed bag. One in particular had a truly excellent character arc… but the other three were milquetoast.
    • The pacing was great for 80% of it, but I found it lagged at the beginning and in the middle at points.
  • Cons
    • I didn’t like the worldbuilding (but this might just be a personal taste thing).

 

I liked this book quite a bit. This is a classic quest fantasy a la Wheel of Time. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it’s a more-than-competent homage to the subgenre. Expect no trope inversions; the author set out to write an excellent traditional Epic Fantasy and that’s exactly what he did.

This book stars 4 protagonists: Dav, Asha, Wirr and Kayden.

The first three are fun characters, if trope-y. The author created in them three worthy protagonists who are honorable, clever and powerful, with the occasional interesting backstory. They weren’t bad… I just think they were a bit bland for my taste. I honestly can’t think of a single occasion when one of them had so much as a selfish/violent/vile thought in their heads. You don’t need to be an antihero to be interesting, however it does help. That said, in future books there is plenty of room for them to become more interesting.

Speaking of antiheroes, Kayden is an amnesiac who has been accused of mass murder. No one knows if he actually committed the crime. He seems nice to his fellow heroes, and when we have his POV perspective he tries to be nice. However at all times everyone is worried about whether he’ll snap and start killing people. He was a quite refreshing character.

I liked the plot a lot. The plot on it’s own was one of the best plots I’ve read in recent years. There’s backstabbing, political chicanery, oodles-upon-oodles of fighting, unexpected twists(which were nonetheless foreshadowed), and the making-and-breaking of friendships. I don’t want to spoil it. Just read it.

The worldbuilding was a thousand miles wide, but an inch deep. We learn about four cultures, a legacy of magic stretching back thousands upon thousands of years, strange eldritch time-temples, dastardly monsters, quirky magical artifacts, a half-dozen political factions and more. All of this is good, engrossing worldbuilding.

*However* the author doesn’t do a very good job of describing the small stuff. What are the people eating? What foods do they grow? What fabrics and textile patterns do they wear? What does the air of the forest smell like, versus the air of the city? Is the soil red with rust, or white with limestone? I want to be drawn into a setting by the gritty details. This book was missing the small details, the scents and tastes and flavors of deep worldbuilding.

My other minor complaint is that the author used too many ‘Proper Fantasy Nouns,’ for my taste, such as ‘Tol’ and ‘Essence’ and ‘Keeper.’ There were a ton of these universe-specific words. He could have just used ‘Magic School’ and ‘Magic’ and ‘Dude.’ I wish the author was more restrained with his in-universe lingo. 

Anyway, I loved it a good bit. If the author either fleshed out the POV characters a bit more or added a bit more to the deep worldbuilding I would have easily upped my rating to Highly Recommended; as it is, this book nearly got a Highly Recommended rating on it’s merits as they are. This is a fun novel which is an unapologetic good time. Do check it out.

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