I got this because it went on sale and it’s narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who is one of my absolute favorite narrators.
The opening scene sets the tone for the whole book when a baby is born with shades attached to her shadow. She doesn’t cast just one shadow, but many. Shades are the echoes of once living things, entities strong enough to still somewhat latch onto this world. They can latch on to your soul/lifeforce if you’re untrained and they’ll drain the life right out of you. If you’re powerful and trained, however, you can learn to harness them and control them, and with different types of shades come different types of powers — knowledge shades, elemental shades, and combat shades. There’s a ton of world building going on here, and it’s very firmly in the secondary world/high fantasy genre. There’s a ton of magic and it gets super fucking intense by the end, like Brandon Sanderson levels of magic casting and battles by the end.
Outside of shade magic there is also bonding magic, certain people are able to bond to animals and they become sort of a hybrid between whatever animal it is and a human, like the rat-person servant that Artemio has in his employ. There’s a very strict divide between nobles and peasants, there’s not out-right slavery, but the class standards are fairly unwavering.
So anyway, back to the opening scene. The baby born, Orcina, is one of the two MC’s. She lived a hard life for a while since her parents couldn’t trust her because they never knew when a shade might take over their daughter’s body and cause havoc, she was kicked out of her village and sent to go live with a woods-witch who reminded me STRONGLY of Esme Weatherwax, her demeanor, her treatment of others, her relationship with Orcina were all very parallel to Esme — not a complaint, just an observation. Her name is Mother Vinegar and i liked her a lot, but even Mother Vinegar saw that Orcina was outgrowing her powers and her ability to train her, and so she sends her on yet again to a school that teaches people to harness their shades. And it’s here where the story really kicks off and the two POVs collide. The pacing is slow at first as you get to know these two characters and they’re doing their own thing for a good portion of the book.
So Artemio is the heir to a noble house known as the Vulpe, but they’re sort of outcasts as well. They’re known for being wily (like their namesake) but none the less they are still upper crust and so the son is invited by the Kings to try and solve a series of murders. Nobles are falling dead one by one, and there doesn’t appear to be any real connection. They’re from different houses, some allied some enemies, some women, some men, some old, some young. The only thing that ties them all together is none of them are shade-bound and all of them died horribly violent deaths. There have been a bunch of people investigating this before him and they’ve all ended up dead. He doesn’t even know if the kings (twin brothers sharing the role) want him to succeed or not.
I thought the writing was great. The prose flowed easily and I sunk into the story without much effort. I thought the dialogue felt effortless and not forced or stiff. Each character had their own flare and tone but not so much it felt over-embellished.
I have two nitpicks about the book. I really do not like Harmony, Artemio’s twin sister. She was relentlessly stupid. An example being speaking outwardly against a rebel king, amongst a crowd of rebels, when the king was addressing said crowd. She did shit like this all the time and it was just “how dumb can you be?”. The second thing is the rapid aging of Orcina. As I mentioned earlier, shades can drain your life force, but what this does if it doesn’t outright kill you, is age you. You negotiate with shades to give up a few seconds to a few days of your lifeforce in exchange for their powers. What this does, though, is age Orcina from a teen or preteen into a woman? And there are aspects of this that worked, and others that really didn’t for me.
I think the best aspect of this book was the world building. Within a couple chapters the world felt real and in depth, there was very little info dumping for just how much world was there. I loved the dragons, and dragons are usually an “eh” take or leave it thing for me. They aren’t necessarily a huge draw, but these ones were neat.
There is a LOT going on in this book, a rebellion, assassinations, dragons attacking, shades taking over bodies, crazy ass magic, there’s a lot to like about this book and Tim Gerard Reynolds narrating it all just made it that much better. I’d recommend this for anyone looking for an action/adventure, epic high fantasy book with a ton of magic.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 8/10
Final score: 79/100 or 3.9 stars out of 5 on Goodreads