Friday, 15 January 2010

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ – Ari Marmell (Spectra)

At the back end of last year I was having real trouble getting into any books at all. I’m glad to say that’s all over now (which is a relief for me!) but it was a really strange feeling for a while...
Going by the blurb, Ari Marmell’s ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ seemed like a nice light read that would get me over the bump and back into other stuff; just the book for a fun (and light) Christmas read. As it turned out, ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ turned out to be just that and a book that I’d recommend to readers of this blog. That’s not to say that there weren’t any problems though...

Corvis Rebaine has a dark secret that he keeps from everyone in the small village where he lives, even his own children. Only seventeen years ago Rebaine’s army cut a bloody swathe across the land of Imphallion, inexplicably bottling themselves up in the capital city and fragmenting just when victory seemed assured.
These are new times though and a new evil is arising to launch an attack on Imphallion. Rebaine is happy with his quiet life and is willing to let events play out so long as they don’t affect him and his family. A brutal assault on his daughter soon changes his mind...
Now Rebaine will find himself going up a new Dark Lord in a battle that will determine the fate of a country. He can’t do it all by himself though and will need the help of his former allies. When one of them would rather see Rebaine dead, and another is working for the enemy, things start to get really interesting...

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ is one of those happy finds that I find myself picking up quite by chance and enjoying a lot more than I ever thought I would. That’s not to say it’s without any issues though. The blurb at the front of the book makes mentions of comparisons to David Edding’s work and this is apparent in the level of sarcasm and playful wit that characters level at each other over the course of the plot. I’m always up for some of this attitude in any book and, to begin with, it works very well. I found myself chuckling at the idea of a former Dark Lord getting nagged by his wife and similar humour had me smiling at other points as well. As the book went on though, it all started to feel a little too much when every character ended up adopting those very same sarcastic traits. Too much of a good thing ends up not really being a good thing at all and it got to the point where I found myself double checking names just to see which character was talking...
Everything seemed to come together at the end (and Marmell does very well to spring a few surprises on us along the way) but I was left wondering if it all fitted as well as it could have done. That’s not to say that there were any gaping plot holes but things somehow felt forced into a resolution rather than being allowed to flow naturally.

Despite these issues though, ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ remains a thoroughly entertaining read that kept me reading until there was nothing left to read. Marmell adopts a ‘David Gemmellesque’ approach to the story, combining moments of introspection with thrilling scenes of combat that keep the plot moving forward at a very fast (yet smooth) pace. The introspective scenes are very much along the ‘What does it really mean to be a hero?’ and ‘If I do the wrong thing for the right reasons then am I really doing the right thing?’ kind of line. Nothing that you haven’t seen before but Marmell’s deft characterisation keeps you interested in the eventual answers to these questions. All of Marmell’s characters may possess the same ‘Extremely Sarcastic’ gene but they’re all very much people (even the two Dark Lords) and I was left in no doubt as to exactly what it meant for these people to be in the situations they were in. I really came to identify with Rebaine by the end of the book and look forward to the promised sequel. The funny thing was though that I ended up identifying with Rebaine’s nemesis Audriss as well and that’s one of the great things about Marmell’s work; you get to see it from every angle.

Marmell also proves equally adept at giving us scenes of battle that really get the blood pounding. Whether it’s two Dark Lords going at one another or two armies coming together in pitched battle, Marmell keeps it really personal and throws his reader in right at the heart of things. You can almost feel shields splinter under the blow of a sword or mace! Marmell is also fond of throwing things off course when the mood takes him. Anything can happen and that’s one of the many things that kept me reading.

‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ has its issues but overcomes these to become a book that any fan of epic fantasy will get a lot out of. Like I said, there’s a sequel promised and I’m looking forward to it. Look out for ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ at the end of February/beginning of March.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

RobB said...

Hi Graeme,

We seemed to be of similar mind on this book, considering the last time you commented on it.

I liked it, maybe a bit less than you, but more than I expected.

I'll be posting my review probably in another two weeks.