Tuesday, 4 September 2007

‘Shadowstorm’ – Paul S. Kemp (Wizards of the Coast)

Writing this blog has really opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more sci-fi/fantasy out there than what I would normally pick up at the bookstore. One of the things that I’ve learnt is that (for me personally) so long as I enjoy the story I don’t care whether it’s a ‘shared world’ or something that the author has thought up themselves. For the sake of being a little bit snobby about ‘original work’, you run the risk of cutting yourself off from lots of other stuff that you will enjoy just as much. It was Paul S. Kemp’s rather splendid ‘Shadowbred’ that made me realise this and I was thrilled, as only a sci-fi/fantasy nerd can be, when the sequel turned up on my doorstep.
Things are looking increasingly bad for the nation of Sembia. City-States snap at each other’s heels and descend into civil war while the Shadovar manipulate affairs in order to bring about dark prophecy. With the rest of humanity mired in a bog of treachery and ill fortune, it will take a man who is half shade to set things right but friendship will force Erevis Cale to make decisions that take him further away from his goal…
One question that any fantasy author will face is, “how do you keep a reader’s interest if your main character is well nigh invulnerable?” Kemp answers this question by making Cale’s foes even more powerful than those he faced in the last book. There are some incredibly powerful scenes where Erevis faces off against a Lord of Hell, battles a dragon and goes up against a dark lord of the Shadovar. This is writing that will get your blood pumping and won’t let you go but I got a feeling that Kemp is maybe getting ahead of himself in the run-up to the final book. A ‘middle book’ should lay the ground for a major climax, ‘Shadowrealm’ (the final book) is going to have to pull something pretty amazing out of the hat to top what takes place in ‘Shadowstorm’. The end of the book left me a little sad as I was thinking ‘Kemp actually cannot beat this’, it will be interesting to see how it all ends.
Kemp balances the epic magical battles with some really poignant human drama that ensures the reader doesn’t overdose on the fantastical elements. Abelar’s search for his son and the gradual corruption of Tamlin slowed the pace down at just the right times but had an intensity all of their own. While almost everything plays out as you would expect, there are still plenty of twists in the tale that will have you guessing as to the outcome. Without spoiling too much, one of these twists felt a little contrived and served only to have a certain character in the right place at the right time (I think there were other ways this could have been done). I was also unsure why another character made an appearance, gave something away and played no further part in the rest of the book…
These were minor quibbles that didn’t have too adverse an affect on my enjoyment of the book. If you enjoyed ‘Shadowbred’, ‘Shadowstorm’ will give you more of the same and then a whole load more! Paul S. Kemp is rapidly becoming a real ‘find’ for me this year, I’ll be interested to see how the trilogy ends next year.

Eight and a Half out of Ten.

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