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Thursday, June 17, 2010

"The Office of Shadow" by Matthew Sturges (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Matthew Sturges Website
Order "The Office of Shadow" HERE
Read FBC Review of Midwinter


INTRODUCTION: In my 2010 Anticipated Novel Post of last November I gave the following reasons for wanting to read "The Office of Shadow" as soon as possible.

"I loved Midwinter (FBC dual Rv with Robert) though on reread and after time passed I started agreeing about some of its flaws that others pointed out; while it moved a little down in my ranking for 2009, I still think Midwinter a great debut with its inventiveness overriding the narrative problems; The Office of Shadow is a highly expected book and with a little prose improvement it could be a candidate to my top 10 since it has the "narrative heft" for that..."

So when some months ago I got a pdf arc of "The Office of Shadow" courtesy of its Pyr Books publisher, I immediately delved into it and finished it soon after.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Office of Shadow" stands at about 420 pages divided into three parts and 43 numbered chapters. As in "Midwinter" each chapter starts with quotes from various "local authors" that add depth to the universe of the series.

While a chronological sequel to Midwinter, "The Office of Shadow" features only one main character from there, the formerly disgraced wastrel elf-lord Silverdun who is currently moonlighting as an Aban monk keeping with his mother's faith - faith that has only recently been accepted in the Seelie lands and is still a guaranteed death sentence in the Unseelie dominated territories.

In addition there are two new main characters; Sela is a strangely powerful orphan seelie of common birth who is currently the only sane resident of the infamous Copperine House where the elves with uncontrollable powers are held, though they usually go mad before long.

Ironfoot is a former soldier and currently a scholar working for the seelie main Academy and specializing in arcane magic and technology who is investigating the devastating "weapon of mass destruction" that the villainous unseelie Queen Mab had unleashed on a seelie city at the end of Midwinter.

Since little is known about the weapon, there is panic in the Faerie lands and among various conflicting proposals - invade, appease, investigate, bribe - the rumored and specifically banned by the last treaty with the unseelie, super-secret Office of Shadow is reconstituted with the three above as first new "recruits".

"Midwinter" featured inhabitants of various worlds in the series universe - including a human physicist (!) and a 1950's car (!) - but here the author restricts both the characters and the action only to the neighboring two elvish kingdoms, of which the unseelie one is mostly aerial since it resides in great part over the "Badlands". While an acquaintance with Midwinter is desirable, "The Office of Shadow" can be read on its own since the relevant back story is provided early. A definite ending adds to the standalone feel of the novel and I liked it well enough to be quite interested in another series installment.

"The Office of Shadow" is fantasy adventure with a twist - no humans included, everyone in the novel is elvish and the action happens only in their lands.

ANALYSIS: "The Office of Shadow" starts with an action sequence some years past that features both agents of the title's organization - before its supposed official closing under the treaty mentioned above -and their deadly unseelie opponents, the Bel Zheret.

After the superb opening, the novel continues very strong with the three main characters and their "recruitment" and training as "Shadows" and there are quite a few twists and turns and there is exploration of new "territory" as the series goes - overall showing great promise for what is to come.

However instead of building on the new possibilities hinted here and continuing the original developments started,
"The Office of Shadow" retreats in the conventional and becomes a pretty standard fantasy action novel with over the top bad guys, traitors, double crosses and the whole paraphernalia of the thriller while the main characters become quite indistinct and the great potential from the opening pages is wasted a bit.

The author' style which is more accomplished and smoother here than in Midwinter carries the novel well and there were enough "goodies" for me to enjoy the novel - there is a return to the Badlands sequence that is superb for example - but I regretted this retreat in the true and tried since
"The Office of Shadow" could have been so much more. This regret was compounded when the novel picked up again in intensity and inventiveness for its last 100 pages which were superb. There are revelations after revelations as well as action galore and the world building of the series acquires more depth and nuance.

So "The Office of Shadow" (A from me) is a novel that starts and ends extremely strong, but with a middle part that depends on the reader's appreciation for the true-and-tried tropes of the thriller and overall I felt that the whole was a little less than the sum of its parts since again the stunning ending and the extremely promising beginning should have left me feeling I have read a "blow me away" novel, not a pretty good but "belonging to the pack" one as I consider it to be.

1 comments:

Cindy said...

Oh and Elvish book! Another book for my TBR pile!

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