Book Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Whim struck, and I went with it. Author James Islington is being compared to the likes of Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss—and while I can see that influence on his writing, don’t  let it fool you into thinking he can’t “do his own thang.” He did, and pretty well, too!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs – once thought of almost as gods – were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

I am still—after so many books that I’ve lost count—puzzling over the general aversion to prologues. I can’t remember one that actually turned me away from a book, or even one that made me wonder how much further I’d read. James Islington’s “The Shadow Of What Was Lost” begins with a highly intriguing prologue, and the first chapter piqued my interest even more. I really wanted to see how they were connected. I sped through the first several preview chapters available on Amazon, gasped in indignation at the interruption, and promptly bought the novel.

I very rarely do that. If I have to think about whether or not I really want to purchase a book, I am inevitably reminded of the others already waiting on my copious To-Be-Read list and choose to pass. Not this time.

While Davian, the main character, does things that make you wish he could hear you shouting at him to stop! stop!, he is also clever and quick. We’re uncertain of his exact age as the book begins; he’s young, but he isn’t completely overflowing with immaturity and age-associated stupidity, either. The balance makes him believable. His associate, Wirr, drew my suspicions early on, but I liked that. Is he friend or foe? Must read to discover the truth!

I did struggle with the names; too many of them were too similar to make for easy remembering. Still, the character roster is not difficult to follow. Rather than a legion of main characters, we’re limited to three, and the secondary characters are handled skillfully and given personalities and realities of their own. The main characters are believable and enjoyable. Much to my delight the female lead, Asha, is plucky and smart. She can do things on her own—and does—without coming across as “too” anything. (Too tough, too strong, too well-trained for her age/circumstances…) I loved that the characters continued to develop and grow throughout the story, and the end of the first book is clearly not the end of that progression.

The world this takes place in is easy to envision. It is detailed without overburdening the reader, and the magic is well-crafted, and discovering through Davian’s eyes how it really works seems natural. I am curious about the creation of the Tenets; how does this work to handily tattoo anyone who uses the Essence for the first time?

There are some unpolished places in the novel, like far too many chapters that end with the characters sleeping (far too easy to put the book down there. I mean really, what’s happening to hold my interest?). Some of the scene breaks suffer the same invitation for the reader to set the book aside. I am also amused at the number of times invisible surprise guests show up in one’s bedchambers. The word “okay” perpetually distracts me. Modern slang rarely fits into the pseudo-medieval setting of most epic fantasy. There are several other word misuses—annoying, but not enough to turn me away from what is really a good tale. Less of the passive voice would make the book even stronger.

There are some wonderfully humorous lines: “It’s not like they can execute us more,” says Davian to Wirr when Desrialite soldiers are killed. And speaking of people being killed, the characters seem to accept the deaths of their friends and acquaintance and move on—within days if not hours. There are a *lot* of deaths, and while a few scenes qualified as “bloody,” I didn’t find them gratuitously so. With one exception—which seems a shame, because it didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the book (and was just icky enough for me to leave it off my list of Flinch-Free Fantasy. Bummer!).

My nit-picking aside, Mr. Islington has provided a fun, fast-moving read with great characters and interesting twists. I’m looking forward to Book Two.

You can find The Shadow of What Was Lost HERE on Amazon.

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Have you read this book? What did you think?
What’s the last great book you read?

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