Shadow’s Son is yet another assassin fantasy novel by debut author Jon Sprunk. But though it’s like has been done before, Shadow's Son remains exciting and engaging. Like the majority of fantasy books published today, this is the first entry in a trilogy that will follow the book’s main character Caim. A plus for this book: it is being almost simultaneously published in the US by Pyr and in the UK by Gollancz, a chance many debut authors do not get. A strong narrative and a lack of over-complexity make Shadow’s Son an entertaining book, if not one without flaws.
In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples. Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and sorcery from the Other Side, his only allies are Josephine, the socialite daughter of his last target, and Kit, a guarding spirit no one else can see. In this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won’t be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir’s hazardous back alleys to its shinning corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must claim his birthright as the Shadow’s Son…
Shadow’s Son is a fun read; you shouldn’t be going into this expecting any less. But you shouldn’t really be expecting anything more. For sure, it is a fast-paced action story that keeps you at an incredible level of excitement but it is also an often predictable story-line, mostly in that last act, and a novel that is missing a bit of depth. By depth I mean that there are a number of great elements present in this book, political history, a vast world, betrayals, etc. but most of it is lacking any detail beyond the very minimum surface explanation.
I was, though, pleasantly surprised by what I found in Shadow’s Son. I went in to this expecting something different. Magic as whole is kept to the down low in this world, but Caim is one of the only magic wielders we are aware of. In fact, almost no one but us knows of Caim’s ability or that he it is that which makes him especially good at what he does, which is to say killing people. Though I probably should have, I wasn’t expecting Caim to possess magical abilities; I was more set in him deriving his abilities from actual skill and talent. The action sequences are superb and are only amplified by Caim’s mysterious powers. Not to mention, there are fight scenes aplenty in Shadow's Son, and who doesn't like a good fight scene?
Though I appreciate Sprunk’s effort with the political background of the country of Nimea, it is a perfect example of the lack of depth some elements of Shadow’s Son exhibit. What happened on the political scene in the past thirty years is crucial to central plot of the novel yet we only ever get a very superficial glance at what occurred; we know what happened, but it would have been nice to know more. Similarly, the revolution in the streets of Othir is one we pass by, when it had great potential, though in this case I guess it can be attributed to Sprunk’s wish to stick with what Caim is doing, and he chooses to relinquish any involvement in the actual revolution.
Caim is probably the only fully formed and believable character in this book. He’s got as much moral ambiguity as you could like and grows sufficiently over the course of the book. Then there is Josephine or Josey as she is referred to in most of the book, who is your archetypical spoilt young woman in distress, complete with an unbelievable character evolution which you can predict from miles away. The nature of her relationship with Caim is one that has been done over and over again just like how her bratty personality is replaced with one of a humble and responsible woman within only a short period of time. But there is a reason why this particular stereotype is so often encountered: it is hard not to develop some sort of attachment to a character like Josey. So while Sprunk might be going with the safe option, he does succeed in creating likeable characters that I’m looking forward to being reunited with in Shadow’s Son’s sequels.
In the end, despite all the flaws I’ve pointed out, it is difficult for me to keep too harsh an opinion of Shadow’s Son in my mind. It did just what I wanted it to do, entertain me, and none the flaws ever truly got in the way of my enjoyment. Don’t be put off by the shortcomings I brought up above, with its relatively short length and its fast pace, Shadow’s Son makes for the perfect read when you’re in search of a quick burst of fun-filled action. We must not forget that this is Mr. Sprunk’s debut and with it he has managed to make me excited for the other two books in this promising trilogy as well as anything else he might throw our way.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Jon Sprunk's Website: http://www.jonsprunk.com/
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