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Thursday, November 3, 2011

"The Warlock's Shadow" by Stephen Deas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Stephen Deas Website
Order The Warlock's Shadow HERE
Read FBC Review of The Thief-Taker's Apprentice
Read FBC Review of The Adamantine Palace
Read FBC Review of The King of the Crags

INTRODUCTION: Last year's The Thief-Taker's Apprentice was a very entertaining debut to a new series by Stephen Deas that takes place in the same world as his Dragon series which ended its first part with the recent The Order of the Scales. Marketed as YA and featuring young Berren as main POV, the book read like an usual adult fantasy, with less explicit content than the author's other series but with lots of gore and grit otherwise.

As Warlock's Shadow continued Berren's adventures, it was a highly awaited book for me and I got it the moment it was out and read it soon after.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Warlock's Shadow picks up some two years after the end of The Thief-Taker's Apprentice and takes place in Deephaven also. Berren is now entrenched as Syannis' apprentice and they work for justicar Kol, bringing malefactors to "justice" for the reward money. As Berren's main wish is to "learn swords", he has to attend school too with strict monk Sterm as teacher since that is the condition Syannis imposed on his apprentice in order to teach him how to fight.

However, Syannis' past as an exiled prince with a desire for vengeance is catching up as one of his main enemies known as "The Headsman" has just shown up in the city, while not coincidentally one of Sy's fellow exiles and friends, former soldier and current tavern keeper Kasmin is murdered. And to top it all, Syannis is keeping company with the warlock of the title, "witch doctor" Saffran Kuy who is described succinctly by the author as "another refugee from a kingdom that didn't exist any more".

When sword monks who belong to the powerful Sun God religious order that is currently not in the best relationship with the imperial authorities show up in Deephaven too and events precipitate, Berren gets his wish and despite Sy's deep misgivings he is apprenticed to Tasahre, a young girl his age and the most novice of the monks. And the tension starts rising and rising...

The Warlock's Shadow is a book that just flows on the page and I can describe the author's style only as "addictive" making one want to turn the pages and revel in the words. Here is the opening of the novel proper after a prologue that sets up the fatal meeting between Kasmin and the Headsman.

"Deephaven! Great northern port of the Empire, young and vibrant and alive with a wild frantic energy! While cities like Varr slipped into decadence with a fatal resignation, Deephaven ran out to embrace it and offer up its heart. Here anything was possible, here north met south, all that was Aria collided with all that was not; it was a place where swords and lives and even kingdoms were bought and sold, a place always humming with anticipation of what the next moment would bring even as it reveled in the last"

While Berren is clearly more mature and self-possessed than the young orphan/thief whom Sy took under his wing in the series debut, he is still a teen with bouts of sullen acting, headstrong and not prone to patience. The author contrasts very well his main hero with the cynical and world weary Sy and the young but very self-disciplined Tasahre.

I also liked a lot how the novel twists and turns and while the general direction - big picture events that the monks are involved in and which somehow will touch on Berren and Tasahre, interacting with Sy's quest for revenge - is clear, The Warlock's Shadow managed to keep me in the dark to its actual destination, while offering some surprises, hints of deeper stuff and quite a lot of action and drama.

Almost to the end I really loved the novel and thought it would blow away my already high expectations, but I disliked the cliffhanger ending which at least until the next installment took the series down a notch for me. To be honest the ending was actually foreseen and it was appropriate in a way, but it made me want the third novel asap as the ending was pretty annoying on its own.

Overall The Warlock's Shadow (A+) is a highly recommended novel that stands well on its own until the cliffhanger ending - the crucial facts from The Thief-Taker's Apprentice are recounted in the beginning and anyway as that novel was more of a setup with a definite main thread that ended there, said events are less important than the thread that starts here and is connected to a big picture we only dimly see. As I said in my review of The Thief-Taker's Apprentice do not let the YA label stop from reading the book since except for the lack of explicit content, the novel is as "adult" as a regular fantasy.


Stephen Deas said...

Nice review as always, Liviu, thanks. I try not to have too many cliffhanger endings in my series, but the temptation was too much for this one.
Are you guys doing The Order of the Scales anywhere?

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I quite liked Order of the Scales while I am really curious what you will do next after the fiery ending there, and I plan to review it at some point - I bought it and read it on publication in May/June but I was away from FBC from early May till early July with my 900 mile household move (spruce and sell a house, sort 9 years of junk, etc...) so I could not review some books of note including this one but slowly I am clearing that backlog so to speak


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