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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

SPFBO Semifinalist: Pursuit Of Shadows by J. A. Andrews (reviewed by Justine Bergman)

Official Author Website
Order Pursuit of Shadows HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: J.A. Andrews is a writer, wife, mother, and unemployed rocket scientist. She doesn't regret the rocket science degree, but finds it generally inapplicable in daily life. Except for the rare occurrence of her being able to definitively state, "That's not rocket science." She does, however, love the stars.

She is eternally grateful to CS Lewis for showing her the luminous world of Narnia. She wishes Jane Austen had lived 200 years later so they could be pen pals. She is furious at JK Rowling for introducing her to house elves, then not providing her a way to actually employ one. And she is constantly jealous of her future-self who, she is sure, has everything figured out.

She spends an inordinate amount of time at home, with her family, who she adores, and lives near the Rocky Mountains of Montana, where she can see more stars than she ever imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: Pursuit of Shadows is 518 pages long, divided over 52 chapters and a prologue. It is the second entry in The Keeper Chronicles series, although it can be read as an independent standalone. The book is currently available in ebook and paperback formats, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on September 23, 2018. Cover art and design by Ebook Launch. Interior illustrations by Wojtek Depczynski.

CLASSIFICATION: Character-centric Epic Fantasy

We tell stories about everything. We can't escape them. It's how we interact with each other, it's how we keep the things we value close.

One fateful night, young Will awakens to find trouble crawling through his window. The result is a violent encounter that leaves his family in tatters, his younger sister missing, and Will with hands blistered by Keeper magic. Decades pass, and yet he still holds onto the hope that he will locate her. Traveling through a land ripe with enemies, searching for the most minute of clues, Will finds himself recruited as the resident storyteller by the Torch of the Morrow clan for their migration through the grasses. One day, out of the corner of his eye, he catches a glimpse of a woman that looks intensely familiar, but she fails to recognize him during each of their short encounters. With dangers at every turn and treachery simmering, Will must do whatever it takes to get the answers he's been seeking since a child, while also veiling who he truly is.

Pursuit of Shadows is the second installment in Andrews' The Keeper Chronicles series, however it can be read as a completely independent standalone novel. This character-centric journey through the Sweep is a tale of kinship and acceptance, promoting the ideal that regardless of someone's background, they're of value and importance. I've heard mention that this series can be considered Noblebright, and I have to agree with this classification, as the story revolves around beautifully flawed characters that are attempting to make the world a better place by making an impact beneficial for the majority. The deeper we dive, the more apparent it becomes, as we witness characters choosing the best paths towards a greater good, then being forced to live with the consequences of decisions made. With its refreshingly lighthearted approach to tackling serious concepts, this book has earned its place on my personal list of feel-good fantasy.

One of the aspects I appreciate most about this book is that it pays homage to classic fantasy, executed with a fresh and modern twist. It's a clean, exciting, and uplifting adventure in a foreign land filled to the brim with all manner of inhabitants, including humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and dragons. Magical essence exists in all living things throughout, waiting to be tapped by those skilled enough. And the land is riddled with hidden tunnels and passageways leading to secreted phenomena, awaiting to be discovered by an adventurer brave enough. The level of charm this story contains is something I rarely see - the Sweep, the journey, the surprises - there's always something to unearth in this dazzling world.

In addition to brilliant surroundings, the cast of characters Andrews has given breath and voice to, as well as their dynamics with each other, are absolutely superb. Keeper Will considers himself the weakest of his order due to his lack of magical capacity. However, his ability to read emotions is one of the most important anyone could ever possess. His dedication to locating his kidnapped sister, although decades have passed, is definitely something to admire. Rass is a mysterious girl living in the grasses of the Sweep. She's insistent people need to take a moment to stop and smell the roses, even if there are more pressing matters at hand. You can sense there's more to her than meets the eye, and her reveal is stunning. Sora is an intriguing and enigmatic archer hailing from the mountain clans. She's stoic in nature, rigid and intolerant, but it's evident there's pain and loneliness lurking beneath the surface. Her transformation is wonderful to witness. Killien is the progressive Torch, or leader, of the Morrow clan, who peculiarly promotes education amongst his people, and hopes to bring peace to the clans of the Sweep. However, he's willing to go any length to do so. There are several others that play key roles in this tale, but I'll leave them for you to discover yourself.

Each character is a catalyst for another's transformation in some way, shape, or form, and the farther they journey together, the more discernible their individual changes become and their collective differences diminish. What originally appears to be narrative of a man in enemy territory, becomes an account of companionship as they all work towards a common goal. There are plenty of sincere and emotional moments peppered throughout to reveal their pasts to help satiate your curiosity and further engage you in this absorbing story.

The moon was so low it grazed the horizon, sending a thousand golden fingers dragging through the fur of the giant creature that was the Sweep.

After a bit of a slow start, we're heaved into a world that is so beautifully crafted with secrets that are revealed at just the right times. Gorgeously vivid descriptions of the settings established around us add new fine layers to the immersion that continues getting deeper and deeper. The plot and twists are developed in such a way to drop hints for you to possibly pick up on, and keep the pages flying by at a rapid pace. Splashes of mirthful snark and chill-inducing prose make this a thrilling, stand-out read that is far too difficult to put down. And finally, the inclusion of character illustrations throughout is a wonderful touch.

I thoroughly enjoyed my journey alongside Will and Company in Pursuit of Shadows, and as I approached the final pages, I knew this would be a universe I'd definitely need to revisit in the future. Luckily, the trilogy, along with a separate standalone novel have already been published, and therefore purchased. Reminiscent of classic favorites, this story has everything you'd ever need for an entertaining and absorbing epic fantasy adventure. I highly recommend.


Victoria Corva said...

What a lovely and in-depth review! Actually, it's convinced me to add PURSUIT OF SHADOWS to my TBR because I'm very much in need of optimistic 'noblebright' fantasy these days.

It's also really impressive that the author managed to impress with the second in a series. It's so rare that 'this novel can stand alone' actually *means* that with a mid-series book.

Looking forward to getting my hands on this one. Thank you for the review. :)


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