Hello again friends, here’s my next attempt to brutally stab (I think I mixed up my phrases there) at reviewing the novels of my peers. This time, I’m tacking a crack at Erik Nelson’s next novel in his Somnagent series.
You can buy it here, by the way. It’s got a snazzy new cover now. Or, at least it’s new to me!
I still don’t know if I’m doing this whole reviewing thing right, but I’ve decided to cut up this review into two parts, the “Short” and the “Long” review. They should both be rather self-explanatory. The ending “In All” statement could apply to either, so feel free to read it regardless of whether or not you choose to read the both the “Short” and “Long” review or just the latter.
The Short Review:
Pros: Similar to the previous book, the sense of mystery is prevalent again. However, just enough is given to push the reader onward but not reveal too much.
The stakes have been raised both emotionally and physically. More powerful characters begin to enter the fray such as Raven’s “children,” and Mortello. The narrative has a more escalated sense of scale that makes the actions of the individual characters more engaging overall.
The quick pace is retained from the last book— it never gets hung up on anything that isn’t moving the plot forward. While this is sometimes at the expense of character development, it doesn’t change the fact that the story still moves along at an enjoyably quick pace.
Compared to the last installation, the descriptions of the action sequences have been much more refined. Nelson has greater control over the choreography of the characters in larger-scale action sequences and their conclusions are more satisfying without sacrificing the velocity of any given encounter.
Cons: The second half of the book left most of those aforementioned powerful characters and raised stakes behind in favour of focusing solely on Slider and Lillium. While said section was still enjoyable, it detracted from the greater scope of things and brought the reader away from the actions that had the highest stakes attached to them.
Lillium’s and Slider’s psyches also seemed a little too easy to control. The character’s personalities had not significantly shifted, though they claimed to be better people as a result of defeating the demons in their heads. Slider in particular has not made very significant progress as a character and has stayed mostly the same since beginning his journey.
The Long Review:
I chose not to place the character Nym into either Pro or Con due to my mixed feelings about her. While she does provide some of the most compelling mystery in the entire narrative and her upbeat personality does a serviceable job filling the gap made by Fippa’s absence, her presence can be a little jarring or derailing sometimes. Her constantly-cheerful personality can be sometimes placed against backdrops of death and destruction and, especially when paired with Pitt’s ambivalence, can create an unharmonious emotional palette in some scenes. Additionally, her enormous powers seem to act as a safety cushion for some of the characters; so long as Nym is happy with the way things are going, we as the readers who are aware of her great power, can expect things to work out alright. It almost spoils the fun of it all.
Raven had a kind of villain gestation period in the last third of the first book, so it was refreshing to come back and see him again. However, I felt that Raven was an underused character in the novel, however. His presence was pleasantly felt in the first half of the novel; his children especially became enjoyable new additions. The children did add more to that feeling of heightened tension and power that I had mentioned previously. However, both Raven and his children disappear midway through the book and their absences are felt.
As mentioned before, this second book brought something new and very intriguing into the series— a sense of real power and mystery. Characters like Pitt, Nym, Raven, and Lillium were investigated (in regards to their sources of power and their ability to use it) more in-depth than before and their ambiguous natures combined with colossal power gave the novel a feeling of heightened tension and raised stakes. Coming from the more regular characters of Slider and Fippa in the first novel, Shadow’s focus on its more magical characters brought injected a new sense of life into its narrative.
Unfortunately though, the focus on the characters switches around the midway point back to Slider. I felt like Slider’s more linear and uninformed (meaning, he is not as worldly and does not have any real knowledge of the plot undercurrents) detracted from the growing feelings of suspense and power created in the first half. The ending in particular, which will almost certainly lead into the next installment, seemed to arrive suddenly with minimal warning or expectation, likely due to Slider being largely ignorant of events outside of his immediate focus. Turning the lens back onto those earlier mysterious characters and back towards Raven probably would have helped to keep the reader better informed about more worldly events and their true importance could have been underlined for effect.
While the plot of Shadow moves very quickly, though I would argue it moves perhaps too quickly. We as readers see plenty of Slider being a rogue, Raven being the regent, and so on, but we rarely see the characters simply be people. Depth of character, including those little things that make us all people (hobbies, favourite kinds of humour and food, etc.), never comes out strongly due to the movement of the plot being of paramount importance. I think I stressed this in the review for the first book as well, but I think it is worth doing so again.
However, a point of improvement over the first book would be the elaboration on the fictive world and how it all ran. The roles of the Guilds were elaborated on and now it makes more sense when a member of a given Guild takes an action against another. It all factors in to that earlier idea of giving the story’s events more weight; with some more background about why things are happening and how they happen, we as readers can reason for ourselves that particular events may be more important than they immediately let on to characters that are less culturally-aware (see: Slider).
In All: Despite the gaps in information with the villain’s plot and plans and the very slow development of the main character, I think there is more than enough mystery and sense of awe to keep the energy of the story going onto its next sequel. With the raised stakes, I can only think that the next book in the series will continue that upwards climb and make the oncoming events even more interesting. All that needs to fall into place now is some stronger character development and a greater sense that the world around the characters is living and breathing independent of their actions. Otherwise though, the next book promises to give plenty of space— all the space that is necessary to make the series reach even higher heights.
If I had to give this book an exact numerical score, I’d say 3.65. However, since Amazon hates fractions, I decided to round up.
It’s weird not having to put a blue frog onto the bottom of this post. And not adding any pictures like my Lorequests. What’s that? I still need to do one or two Lorequests for this month? Says who?
Says me, I guess. Too bad the other voices in my heads are speaking louder than what Lorequest is saying.
Good luck, you brave writer (and reviewer) folk!