Shadow's Son review

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shadow's Son is the first novel by Jon Sprunk. This assassin fantasy tale is the start of a new series published by Pyr Books, named the Shadow Saga, with Shadow's Lure coming up later this year (June).

Caim's a killer, but a killer with a twisted conscience. He only takes contract when he feels that the deed could turn out to be for the benefit of his definition of the greater good. In the capital city of Othir, the political and religious leaderships scheming provides enough occasions for his business to flourish. With the help of an intermittently present ghost and a mysterious talent he doesn't want to trust, his skills surpasses those of his brethren. However, a simple but dubious assignment will lead him to unravel a conspiracy involving his own past. Having to care for the life of someone else for the first time since his youth, he will have to embrace his dark powers, if only to barely stay alive.

Kick-ass assassins with genuine human feelings have always been a popular archetype in fantasy. In the recent years, we were introduced to Kylar in the Night Angel Trilogy, Ash in Farlander or Hobb's Fitzchivalry. Even though I could find some similitude between their stories and Caim's one, Shadow's Son offers easy accessibility but maybe not something elaborate enough (or I should say colossal). I felt that there were bigger things brewing outside of the assassin struggle but I didn't really connect with that. However, I was taken in with his immediate situation. Ultimately, I cared for him.

Since we would probably be less lenient toward an assassin with a love for killing without remorse, the author created a character perturbed enough by his past to be struggling with his emotions and closing out on personal relations but with a facility to murder. Moments of déjà-vu stroke me when reading about his hardship as a youngster and the line of work he chose. A kind of Dexter who would take contracts rings a bell? To some extent, I think it's a nice way to define Caim.

Jon's writing is accessible, formulating a clear and fluid prose without unnecessary artifice. The best comparison for the feeling generated by the book would be The Crown Conspiracy by Micheal J. Sullivan. If you switch the assassin theme with the thief theme, you get something pretty close in term of pace and scope. The chapters are short and the author quickly gets into business. There are no overlong descriptions or lengthy introspection from the characters. The quickness of it all reminded me of Stephen Deas' The Adamantine Palace and since the story told in Shadow's Son is set in a time frame of only 2 or 3 days, this is understandable. However, with this rush comes a drawback and I felt that I missed some parts of the action or didn't have time to care for some of the protagonists, mostly so for those from the evil side of things.

Aside from the single-minded power hungry figures, the numerous antagonists, the man surrounds himself with Kit, the ghost he only can see and Josey, a noble born girl yearning for a princely fiancé. His relationship with Kit can almost be categorized in the comic relief section but in a small dose. She eventually brings understanding in an omnipotent kind of way which was a good idea. But then, as for Josey, I had some problems with her development. It felt a bit too rushed that she could became way stronger than daddy's little girl in so short a time.

Caim's back-story is slowly revealed and skilfully timed by the author and there's a real sense of closure at the end of the book. Still, Spunk implanted enough "side elements" to generate a desire for me to come back to this world... as far as this world goes, since there's not much of it visited outside the walls of Othir. Moreover, with so many protagonists with a particular ending, there won't be much more link between the first and second book aside from the principal hero. The continuity will probably come up from the shadow side of things.

The concept of shadow is as the heart of the magic system (if it can be called that, let's say magical elements). Caim's dark gift enables him to blend with the shadows, which are more than simply a shading of the light but something alive. A nice touch of fantasy.

I think you should try this fast read if you have a knack for kick ass assassins. Sprunk is a competent debut author using the usual tropes with a twist adding enough originality to make it fresh. Still, there's room for improvement as I stated in the review.

Technically, Shadow's Son cover is not bad if you're into the infamous hooded assassin art. I would have a difficult time to choose between the US and the following UK cover art. There's no map of the city of Othir, which would have been welcomed and the novel stands at 278 pages.

Shadow's Son review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 7 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 /10
Story.............................. 7 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7.5 / 10


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