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Sunday, August 23, 2009

“The Light of Burning Shadows” by Chris Evans (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Iron Elves Website
Official Chris Evans Blog
Order “The Light of Burning ShadowsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Darkness Forged in Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Chris Evans

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Chris Evans is a historian as well as an editor of military history and current affairs for Stackpole Books. He is the author of The Iron Elves which includes “A Darkness Forged in Fire” and the new book, “The Light of Burning Shadows”.

PLOT SUMMARY: As the human-dominated Calahrian Empire struggles to maintain its hold on power in the face of armed rebellion from within, the Iron Elves' perilous quest to defeat the power-hungry elf witch, the Shadow Monarch, takes on greater urgency.

The Iron Elves, shunned by their own people for bearing the mark of the Shadow Monarch, and desperately wanting to forever erase this shame, became legendary for their prowess on the battlefield as the Calahrian Imperial Army's elite shock troops. But when their commanding officer, Konowa Swift Dragon, murdered the Viceroy of Elfkyna, he was exiled, and these brave elves were banished to a remote desert outpost, doomed and leaderless, their honor in tatters.

Recalled to duty to reform his regiment from the dregs of the Imperial Army, Konowa thwarted the plans of the Shadow Monarch at the Battle of Luuguth Jor—ensuring that the fabled Red Star, a source of great natural energy, did not fall into Her hands. Now Konowa must cross storm-tossed seas to seek out the lost elves and the prophesied return of another Star somewhere in a desert wasteland roiling with mysterious power, infernos of swirling magic, and legends brought back to life in new and terrible ways.

And the fate of every living creature will come to depend on a small band of ragged and desperate soldiers, whose very loyalty to the Empire they have sworn to serve is no longer certain...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over thirty-two chapters. Also includes a map, a glossary, and an issue of the Imperial Weekly Herald that recaps events from the first book. Narration is in the third-person alternating mainly between Konowa Swift Dragon and Alwyn Renwar, as well as a few minor viewpoints including Visyna Tekoy. “The Light of Burning Shadows” is the second volume in The Iron Elves series after “A Darkness Forged In Fire”, which I would recommend reading first. “The Light of Burning Shadows” ends on a cliffhanger.

July 28, 2009 marks the US Hardcover publication of “The Light of Burning Shadows” via Pocket Books. The UK edition was released August, 6 2009 via Simon & Schuster. Jacket art and design by Alan Dingman.

ANALYSIS:The Light of Burning Shadows” suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessor including thin characterization, shallow world building, and a straightforward plot that is basically a rehash of the first book—several different factions converging on a fallen star, this time the Jewel of the Desert. Yet for all of its shortcomings, I really enjoyed reading “The Light of Burning Shadows” and felt that it was a much stronger effort than “A Darkness Forged in Fire”...

For one, the writing is sharper with cleaner prose and pacing that is even more electric than the first book. Chris also exhibits better command of the story, including the management of the novel’s different subplots and the execution of some solid narrative twists. Even better, “The Light of Burning Shadows” is not plagued with unnecessary/ineffectual subplots like its predecessor, and instead focuses on what really matters such as Konowa finding the original Iron Elves, the Jewel of the Desert, the Blood Oath, and the surfacing of a dark power in Kaman Rhal that rivals the Shadow Monarch. Plus, the ending is superb and offers a ton of exciting and interesting avenues to explore in the next volume. On the other hand, the plot is still pretty simple, a lot of questions remain unanswered—Who or what is Rallie Synjyn?—and some of the novel’s climatic moments are easy to predict.

Character-wise, the cast and their relationship to one another remain underdeveloped, but Chris does possess the ability to give his characters their own unique voice and personality as evidenced by the dwarf Yimt Arkhorn who is by far my favorite character in the series. This time around though, I was really surprised by Alwyn Renwar—one of my least favorite characters from “A Darkness Forged in Fire”—who undergoes some major changes and really emerges as the main protagonist in the book, even overshadowing Konowa Swift Dragon. Prince Tykkin also surprised me some and I loved the banter between Yimt and his squadron—Alwyn, Hrem, Scolly, Teeter, Inkermon, Zwitty—as well as whenever the three women in Konowa’s life (mother Chayi Red Owl, love interest Visyna Tekoy, and scribe Rallie) got together.

Surprisingly, the military aspects—one of the strengths, and a personal favorite of mine, in the first book—is noticeably lacking in “The Light of Burning Shadows” compared to “A Darkness Forged in Fire”. Chris still explores certain facets like the bond formed between soldiers and whatnot, but for the most part the military angle is overshadowed by all of the magic—frost fire, sarka har, the stars, drakarri, Kaman Rhal, the Blood Oath, etc.—found in the book. Fortunately, the magic is creative and really exciting, so this wasn’t an issue for me.

Humor is still retained in the new book, but I didn’t find it as funny as “A Darkness Forged in Fire”. The flora/fauna is also not as imaginative while the animal characters take a backseat, apart from Jir and the squirrel which is really Konowa’s father.

In addition to all of the novel’s improvements, I would say the real key to enjoying “The Light of Burning Shadows”—and its predecessor—is understanding what kind of fantasy the book is. In other words, Chris Evans is not another Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin or Steven Erikson in the making so don’t expect doorstopper volumes full of in-depth world building, complex plotting, or deep characterization. Instead, the author writes more lighter-fared, family-friendly fantasy full of nonstop action and adventure that should appeal to fans of Terry Brooks, Jennifer Roberson and R.A. Salvatore. I also think fans of James Clemens and Alan Campbell could enjoy the series even though the Iron Elves books are not as dark.

In the end, the second book of the Iron Elves continues to suffer from many of the same problems as “A Darkness Forged in Fire”, but with improved writing, better execution, an action-packed story, characters that have evolved, and a thrilling finish that will leave readers wanting more, “The Light of Burning Shadows” is a marked improvement over the debut, and a highly entertaining fantasy that should further establish a name for Chris Evans...

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