Stands a Shadow review

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stands a Shadow is Col Buchanan second novel in his Heart of the World series, the follow-up to his great Fantasy debut, Farlander. It was released in July 2012 and there's still no word from the author about the next book in the series.
In "Farlander," the first book of the Heart of the World series, readers met Ash, an aging master assassin of the famed order of Roshun, and his apprentice Nico, a boy who always managed to be in the wrong place at the right time. Ash and Nico were sent on a suicidal mission to fulfill a contract against the favored son of the Holy Matriarch, the ruler of Mann. The assassination of the Matriarch's son maintained the honor and reputation of the Roshun, but further destabilized a nation already beset by strife. For Ash, fulfilling the contract came at an enormous personal cost.

Now in "Stands a Shadow," driven by grief and anger, Ash embarks on a journey that takes him through the Free Ports and toward the embattled city of Bar-Khos. He arrives at the city as the Holy Matriarch of Mann orders her forces to breach the walls of Bar-Khos and bring it under her control. Renouncing the ways of the Roshun, Ash disguises himself among the Mannian soldiers, determined to go to any lengths to have his revenge against the Matriarch....
The review of Stands a Shadow is somewhat tricky... there's an element in the plot at the end of Farlander that is having a significant influence on the plot and can't practically be avoided.  Fear not though, this review will be spoiler free.

In Farlander, Master Ash became more human than he had been for a long time, thanks to the feelings woken up in him by his young apprentice Nico.  In the follow-up, Ash is turning away from the Roshun code, he's taking vengeance personal. As you can see, right from the start, the mood is set.  A light feeling of melancholy, despair, suffering and retribution slowly install itself and grows all along the tale.  This kind of atmosphere was inevitable and it's not only surrounding Ash but almost all the other protagonists.  In comparison to the previous book that tone is more intense and more conservative in term of mirthful elements.

In his quest, Ash will encounter the young Roshun turncoat, Ché, who's now a Diplomat (some kind of assassin) riding the coattail of the Matriarch herself as she takes to the field with her two competing arch-generals to confront one of the last bastion fighting against the Mannian, the all-powerful Empire.  Their conquest may look straightforward but more forces than the Matriarch are behind it and political scheming, the balance of power and even the life of the leader of the Empire are at bay. Diplomacy and even shameless intrigue fight their way through Col's book more than ever.

From the side of the oppressed, Bahn is still serving under General Creed, the Lord Protector of Khos.  Bahn's superior and a newcomer, Curl, a prostitute who decides to engage and lend her hand to the struggle of her adoptive people, bring relevant and fascinating new points of view to the story. Looking at what the author is trying to tell in Stands a Shadow, juggling with both sides of the conflict and showing it through the eyes of both the major players and the simple folks dragged into it is well done.

After the table is set, which is done easier in this second opus since the basics of this "steampunkish" fantasy  world, where warfare is explored alongside authentic individuals, are now out of the way and thanks to Buchanan writing skills, one of the most interesting battle I have ever read about is fought. The clash between the Mannians and Creed's forces is so aptly detailed that I couldn't put the book down until it was over. Guns blazing, sword clashing, agile tactics and zeppelin drop-off are all part of the deal!

Sadly, the narrative kind of drags down after that, even if several manhunts ensues and some characters make important moves or die.  When the Khosian forces draw back, the story loses some of its drive, although the strategic component is still evolving. The book clearly falls into classic bridging novelization, stalling the pace to enable a re-positioning of the different protagonists storylines. Sometimes it felt almost as an epilogue, which shouldn't be the case since the tale is far from over. At least, this is less true for Ash.

Fans of Farlander will find that the author decided to give them a harder and more serious tale to follow in this second opus. Moreover, the list of point of views presented is quite different.  That really shouldn't stop you. The Heart of the World series is about genuine characters for whom you'll easily fall in love and between that stellar debut and the end of that compelling adventure, there is some moments where their endeavors may feel a bit sour.  Believe me however, that battle scene alone is worth the read.

Technically, the even though I kind of like the Tor cover for the book, I'm not sure who is represented, I don't remember reading about someone with a bow... The hardcover edition of the book stands at 432 pages and the map of Midères is still present (also here).

Stands a Shadow review score :

Characterization............. 8.5 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 6.5 / 10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 8 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Farlander review
Col Buchanan page


Unknown said...

I loved Buchanan's attention to detail in the war itself, but I agree that it slows down considerably after the initial explosion of pace.


Phil said...

At least, things still looks promising for the next book.

Ghost said...

I think the problem was that he tried to be too detailed and that slowed the pace down to a crawl. Hopefully the second book will get the balance right.

Daddy Grognard said...

I scratched my head about the cover too but in the end, I think it's Curl who - IIRC - cut her hair short after she'd joined the military medics.

And no, I don't know why she has a bow.

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