Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Title: The Shadow of What Was Lost
Author: James Islington
Pages: 693
ISBN: 9780356507767
Series: The Licanius Trilogy #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2016
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

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It has been twenty years since the god-like Augurs were overthrown and killed. Now, those who once served them - the Gifted - are spared only because they have accepted the rebellion's Four Tenets, vastly limiting their own powers.

As a young Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war lost before he was even born. He and others like him are despised. But when Davian discovers he wields the forbidden powers of the Augurs, he sets in motion a chain of events that will change everything.

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 . . .

And in the far north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated, begins to stir.

Reading The Shadow of What Was Lost, James Islington's debut novel, left me with an odd sense of déjà vu. Everything seemed so familiar - an orphaned boy with magical powers and his group of friends are sent on a perilous quest to prevent an evil force from being unleashed on the world. It checks off pretty much every box when it comes to classic fantasy tropes. The influence of other fantasy novels are quite apparent (the Wheel of Time most of all) and the novel almost feels like a homage to the fantasy of the 1980's. At the halfway mark, just as you start to think Islington has nothing unique to offer, he takes that comfortable familiarity and adds an unexpected layer of complexity that elevates the story to a whole new level through the use of nonlinear time.

The large cast of characters, Davian, Wirr, Asha, Dezia, and Caeden, are engaging and well-drawn as each of them struggle to cope with their place in the world and the secrets they hold. Asha was my favourite character by far. She undergoes the starkest transformation and deals with it in such a strong and stoic manner that she just completely captures your heart. As the story progresses more characters are introduced and the many political machinations at play in the world are slowly unveiled. With so many named characters, especially later, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of them all.

You are completely drawn into the world with its rich and complex history filled with lore and magic. The Essence based magic system is intriguing and filled with some far-reaching implications especially since the magic users in the world are shunned and strictly bound by the Tenets which prevents them from using their magic to do harm, but it's these very powers that might be needed to save the world. All the history and lore can be somewhat overwhelming at times, especially when terms are used that are only explained later in the story, but I prefer this method where the complexity of the world is revealed in small pieces rather than large chunks of info dumping and exposition.

There are many twists and turns to keep you off balance as the pace picks up considerably in the latter half of the novel and the narrative races towards the inevitable conflict. The ending is satisfying with a haunting revelation that hints at much greater things to come.

Overall I really enjoyed The Shadow of What Was Lost. The pacing was somewhat uneven and the lack of glossary did diminish my enjoyment a bit. One thing is certain, if Islington can continue to expand on this immersive groundwork as his talents improve and are refined he'll be a force to be reckoned with. If you are a fan of classic fantasy novels you'll love this!

The Verdict:
The Shadow of What Was Lost is a thoroughly engaging coming-of-age fantasy tale with far more complexity than it initially appears. It shows immense promise and I can't wait to see where James Islington takes us next. It can only get better, and if it does this will be an exceptional series!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

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