There’s a certain character-type in literature of any genre, especially Epic and Heroic Fantasy, that can be very easily over-used; they’re also, in my opinion, the most dangerous (at least for the writer) kind of character to write – an assassin. Think about it – we know what an assassin does, we know that the assassin invariably works alone, i.e. we know what to expect. Assassin’s need to be really different, really wayyy out there, to be able to capture our attention.
Caim, the protagonist of Shadow’s Son, does just that, and and in spades!
Caim is loner, a guy who does what he’s good at and tries to keep a low profile. Yes, he’s had a crap, difficult life; yes, he’s got issues, and yes, he can kill a man very quickly, but he’s the kind of guy who tries to keep friendships when he decides to take the step of allowing someone in, he’s the kind of guy who makes bad judgement calls and mistakes, and he’s also the kind of guy who’s view of life is apt to change, as our views do. He’s pretty much down to earth, stubborn, and hell on earth when wronged – in short, he’s like you and me, and that’s what made him such an enjoyable character to read. 🙂 Sure, he’s got some weird -yet still kickass- thing he can do that sets him apart, and he has an invisible friend (C’mon, who doesn’t?!) that gives him that edge, but take that away and he’s just a guy trying to survive.
Putting myself in his position, living his life while reading Shadow’s Son, happened entirely without effort – Jon’s writing style is very focused and wonderfully descriptive, so much so that I found myself devouring chapters while not actually realizing that I was steaming through the book. The city of Othir (where most of the story plays out) really comes alive, with practically minimal effort, and at first I thought that the scope of the novel was pretty limited – Jon would describe sections of the city, streets, taverns and apartments, churches and mansions, in such a way that there was a continuous stream of imagery in my mind, pushing the story onwards, and I found myself hoping for more; not in the sense that it wasn’t enough, but because I was actually so into the book that the thought of finishing it was really starting to bug me. And then Jon starts dropping hints of the wider world, of which Othir is only a small section, and I began to get a glimpse of the world that he had created.
I can only describe Jon’s world-building as sneaky. Yep, you read that right. Sneaky.
You see, what he managed to do was pretty damned cool – Firstly, he created a setting that resonated; architecture, rich and poor districts, the type of clothing people wore, the places they frequented, the differences in speech, etc. Secondly, he dropped hints as to what else was happening in his world, and those hints included other peoples and places that we’ll (hopefully) get to meet. Thirdly, he subtly included all the extraneous info, and here I’m talking about historical events, I needed to place the story he was telling in context against everything else that had happened. The effect was that I didn’t once feel I was being info-dumped upon, or being given information that wasn’t needed; It’s clear to me that Jon really feels comfortable and at home in the world he created, and the world-building also gave me the feeling that there are plenty of stories happening all around his world. A damned awesome achievement!
The action in the book is fast, furious and brutal – Caim is an assassin, after all, and there’s certain things he does that actually made me wince from time to time; there are some scenes that made me think, “Whoa, that was a bit hectic!”, especially involving Josey, but those scenes served a purpose and weren’t included for the hell of it.
The rest of the characters in Shadow’s Son complement Caim awesomely – Caim’s invisible friend was decidedly underused (but I’m pretty sure that she’ll be getting much bigger slices of the action as the story continues) and she was also an excellent foil to Caim; she basically wants him to be happy, not to stress, to have an easy, wonderful life but, Caim being Caim, struggles her ass off, leading to great conflicts between her and Caim. Josey was also excellently written – I will admit to being irritated with her in the beginning, but who wouldn’t be irritated with a pampered, naive high-born young woman? As she grows she becomes yet another great foil for Caim; what she wants from life isn’t what he wants and that sets up some great, and humorous, conflicts throughout the book. The novel is also populated with some decidedly nasty characters, and these guys turned out to be one of the novels greatest surprises for me.
The bad guys in the novel are excellent – they’re unique enough to stand out, alive enough that they kept me interested, and nasty enough that they kept me cheering for Caim. And it’s with the bad guys that Jon really let himself have some fun, plot-wise; there were certain events that I expected to happen and Jon neatly side-stepped those events, pointing the story in new and more interesting directions without making me feel that where I thought things were heading was a waste of reading-time. Misdirection and sleight-of-hand a-plenty! And then Jon managed to bring all the various threads to a satisfying conclusion, too. Not so satisfying that I’ve had enough, but satisfying in terms of, “Okay, this story was awesome, gimme the next one already!”
All in all, Shadow’s Son is a damned fine debut – Jon created some very cool, yet satisfyingly like-us characters; his setting added flavor and nuance to the story and made me more curious about the world he’s created, the action was brutal and very close-in, and the plot sped along, keeping me interested and invested. In fact, Shadow’s Son didn’t make me think in terms of ‘debut’ – Jon knows what he’s doing, and he enjoys doing it. 🙂 I can’t wait to get stuck into Shadow’s Lure!
I give this novel a hearty 9 / 10
UK Cover by Chris McGrath
US Cover by Michael Komarck
Shadow’s Son is available in the US from Pyr and can be ordered here; in the UK from Gollancz and can be ordered here, and in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers and can be ordered here. You call also pre-order book 2 in the trilogy, Shadow’s Lure, here (for US readers).