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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Shadowbred" by Paul S. Kemp

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Shadowbred” by Paul S. Kemp
Reviewed By: David Craddock

It is interesting to study what religion can do to two different individuals. One might be inclined to help shelter, clothe, and feed the homeless, all in the name of his god. The other might decide to hijack a plane filled with hundreds of hostages and fly them into a building, and why? In the name of his god. Truly, what's in a name? God, Allah, Ishvara, Deus, Theos—all the same name, all the same entity, yet our two individuals seem to have completely different ideas as to the goals their gods wish for them to achieve.

In “Shadowbred”, the first book in The Twilight War trilogy, author Paul S. Kemp has created a unique cast of compelling characters that are all in some way driven by dedication to a god or religious practice. It is through his diverse roster—and their different practices—that Kemp elevates himself above many popular writers saturating the market.

Rivalen is a shade, one with the ability to travel through shadows to any destination of his choosing. More importantly, Rivalen is a priest with almost direct access to Shar, the Lady of Loss. Though it might seem that a goddess who specializes in matters of loss and abject misery is not indicative of a friendly priest, Rivalen often displays surprising amounts of mercy and compassion. Early in the book, he is hesitant to risk the lives of his servants who are out at sea with him, searching for a mysterious relic. Seemingly out of character for one dedicated to melancholy.

Elyril, a young woman who uses her aunt as a marionette so that she might manifest both her political ambitions and the will of her goddess, is downright mad. For all of you eligible bachelors out there, Elyril's hobbies include snorting a seemingly endless supply of "minddust", devouring the shadows of servants—which subsequently kills them—and plotting the downfall of a land through civil war. Her goddess: Shar, the Lady of Loss. Her ally: Rivalen, trusted priest of the Lady herself. Two different characters, but vastly different tactics are used to accomplish aligning goals.

Thirdly, we have Erevis Cale who, like Rivalen, is a shade. Though Erevis does not serve the Lady of Loss, he does serve a shadow god by the name of Mask. "Cale" has quite a shady past—pun intended—but resolved to "be a hero" at the deathbed request of his hobbit friend, Jak. Because of the acts he perpetrated in his past, Cale had rejected his god, but over the course of “Shadowbred”, reluctantly finds his way back, and finds that he can apply different principles and actions—ones more in line with those his hobbit friend would have approved of—to achieve Mask's goals.

Though “Shadowbred's” roster is far larger, I call your attention to Cale, Rivalen, and Elyril so as to point out the beautifully deep tale Kemp has weaved with those three. Each has a similar religious background, with two serving the same goddess. Two of them rely on similar abilities, and all three come from pasts filled with the blackest darkness. And yet, Kemp has shown that even with their common traits, the pretext of religion can result in three very different lives, all of which beget very different consequences and rewards.

Elyril uses insanity, murder, and politics to realize the will of Lady of Loss, while Rivalen is infinitely more complex, and throughout most of the story, his character plagued me with a well-crafted ambiguity. During most of “Shadowbred”, the reader will constantly point to a direct result of Rivalen's machinations and say, "That's proof: he must be evil." But then the character will do something else a bit out of a context that was only slightly established. Rest assured that Rivalen's intentions will be overtly known by the end of the book, but I had a great deal of fun examining Rivalen's many twists and turns.

Though he initially seems to be the main character, Cale disappears for quite some time after the book's prologue, leaving Kemp with ample time to establish that the role of protagonist is a mask that will be worn by many. Once he returns to take a leading role, Cale's journey back to his god and former life becomes equally as interesting as Rivalen's pseudo-genteel scheming. Cale's past is revealed bit by bit, leaving the reader with a good understanding of the shade's motivations and desires, yet not so good that devouring the next installment in The Twilight War, “Shadowstorm”, is not thought of without anticipation at learning even more of the character's shadowy—pun again intended—past.

All authors have at least one chink in their proverbial armor, and Paul S. Kemp is no exception. The use of large streams of exposition is like a racecar ready to surge forward, yet stuck spinning its tires on a thick, steep patch of ice. For the most part, “Shadowbred” is well-written, with a quick and powerful prose that paves a smooth, enjoyable road for our aforementioned car. Approximately one quarter of the way through the story, Kemp lightens up on the ill-placed exposition and allows readers the joy of flicking on cruise control, leaning the seat back, and enjoying the ride.

There is no reason to overlook “Shadowbred”. Its sequel, “Shadowstorm”, is also available in stores, and the concluding installment, “Shadowrealm”, will be available in May 2008. Paul S. Kemp has woven an almost immaculate story of conspiracy, political intrigue, and the answer to what can happen between two different people who share similar beliefs.


chrisd said...

That sounds awesome! A little more to than a normal story. I have to get back to The Book of Joby. I liked it so far but Christmas activities are drawing me away.

That reviewer did a wonderful job--thanks for posting!


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