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Friday, June 10, 2016

The Shadow Of All Things by Allen Houston (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Shadow Of All Things HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Nightfall Gardens 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Allen Houston grew up in Bixby, Oklahoma. He attended the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a degree in English Literature. After graduation, he lived in Indonesia and Japan for a while. Upon returning to the states, he worked as a reporter/editor at the Dallas Morning News and The New York Post. He currently works as the City Editor of Metro New York. Allen resides in Brooklyn with his family and a menagerie of animals. This is his debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: When a man in a torn trench coat warns college-student Evelyn Cheng that something evil is coming down the tunnel where their subway train has stalled, she is ready to write him off as crazy until the lights flicker and the terrifying creatures appear.

Through him, Evelyn discovers she is a seer and that a battle between good and evil is raging in New York City among her kind and the mysterious, otherworldly Elyuum, who seek to tighten their grip on the city.

Spanning multiple universes with a sprawling cast of characters, Evelyn and others must stop the Elyuum before they conquer all existence.

FORMAT/INFO: The Shadow Of All Things is 266 pages long divided over thirty-four numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Evelyn Cheng, Pharrell Kennedy, Neil Sullivan, Redmond Carter, Adelaide, and a few other characters. The Shadow Of All Things is the first volume of the Elyuum series.

June 9th, 2016 marked the paperback and e-book publication of The Shadow Of All Things and it was self-published by the author. The cover illustration is done by Colleen Beauchamp-Stiles.

ANALYSIS: I've previously read Allen Houston's debut book which was a nice MG book called The Night Gardens, it was a cute mix of the Addams family and Lemony Snicketts. This unique story intrigued me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Allen approached me to give his SF-UF hybrid thriller a try, I was very much interested to see how his adult book debut would be.

The story opens up rather abruptly with one of our main POV characters Evelyn Cheng who is introduced to strange creatures in a very vivid & scary way. She narrowly escapes but not before meeting another POV character who tells her to find at a specific location if she wants to know more. Next up is Pharrell Kennedy, who is trying to escape his poor surrounding but his cousin Troy might not let that happen with his hare-brained schemes and ways. Pharrell's mother wants him to escape their social shackles but he is torn between the bonds of family and common sense. Neil Sullivan and Adelaide who are best friends and as akin to each other as chalk and cheese. They however share a common disdain about the other students of their preppy school. They also get drawn in to a strange affair when one of their fellow students seems to have died in a weird manner. Their amateur investigations lead them to stranger conclusions however. We also get to meet Redmond Carter who knows all about the strange happenings and who's doing his best to save New York City and its citizens while keeping the general public unaware of the scourge living amidst them. There are a few other character who get one-off POV chapters but to talk about them will involve spoilers.

This story is an intriguing mix of science fiction, portal fantasy and urban fantasy. The author brings his own twist on the portal fantasy trope by making New York City an important junction and the story quite nice explains as to why it is so important for both the protagonists as well as the antagonists. I'm a fan of the urban fantasy sub-genre and this book does quite stack up nicely amid this sub-genre. What the author does neatly is that he also adds a healthy slice of SF to the tale but makes it subtle enough so that there's no perfect delineation. I enjoyed this mixing and I look forward to the author exploring it further in the sequel volumes as there's a lot left unexplained. The pace of this book is a good one as with a large cast of characters, we get each new chapter showcasing a new angle to the story as well newer dangers. The author constantly ups the ante and thereby makes sure that reader will want to read the subsequent chapter to see what happens next.

The character cast is a big one and there's no central protagonist for the story, this is a tricky proposition. Often this can lead to a disconnect for the readers when they don't find anyone to root for. This isn't the case here, we get many interesting characters to follow and see where each one ends up. favorites among them and it will be interesting to see who survive and who don't. The story as I mentioned earlier has an abrupt start, and we never quite get a sense of what is truly happening. I believe the author purposefully constructed the tale tin this manner. It keeps the reader off-balance and makes them as inquisitive as the POV characters in wanting to know the truth of things. Lastly what are the Elyuum? For this you will have to read the book and discover their horror.

Going on the to the things that don't quite work within this book, the major thing is that this book feels like a tremendous setup for the Elyuum series and that is a serious drawback. For most readers expect to get some resolution or some closure when reading any book in a series (even the first). I think the author tries his best to conclude his story in a sensible manner and even ends on a mild cliffhanger-is situation. However it doesn't quite give the closure I sought from the story. Secondly there are quite a few things about the antagonists and the secret history of the world that are left unexplained or not quite entirely mentioned. I realize with this being the first book, that the author might be hesitant to reveal his cards outright. That is his prerogative, in this case I felt that a little more details could have helped the story IMHO.

CONCLUSION: The Shadow Of All Things is an interesting book, it shows a lot of promise and I'm willing to trust the author to come up with a story that does resonate with me. In spite of its flaws, I feel that readers should give this a try and they can judge for themselves why I enjoy Allen's work and will look forward to the sequel.


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