Friday, 2 September 2011

‘Stands a Shadow’ – Col Buchanan (Tor UK)

I read Col Buchanan’s debut novel ‘Farlander’ way back in February last year and, despite a couple of issues, had a great time with it. You can read my full review over Here if you like but it’s all summed up pretty neatly in the two sentences below,

‘Despite some early issues that I had with the book, ‘Farlander’ kicks off Col Buchanan’s debut series in some style and promises great things for the future. If you’re a fan of blood drenched epic fantasy then this is a series that you should keep an eye on.’

Pretty emphatic stuff from me there and, off the back of ‘Farlander’, ‘Stands a Shadow’ became a highly anticipated 2011 read as far as I was concerned. It took me longer than I would have wanted to finally get round to reading it as the reading pile has developed a nasty habit of hiding the books that I really want to read. It’s like it’s developing a mind of its own...  I got there in the end though and am very glad that I did. ‘Stands a Shadow’ isn’t perfect but is still a book that made the morning commute just disappear in a haze of backstabbing intrigue and all out warfare. Seriously, one minute I was opening the book up and the next minute I was at work... Best commute ever :o)

The time has come for the Empire of Mann to finally exercise its considerable military might and remove the one obstacle that stands between the Empire and its goal of spreading the Mannian Creed across the face of the world. The Mercian Port of Bar-Khos has held out against overwhelming odds for the last ten years, now its time has come.
Or has it? There are doubts that the Holy Matriarch of Mann is the person to lead the assault on Bar-Khos and elements within the Empire stand ready to act if they are proved to be correct. The Diplomat Che stands ready to deliver the fatal blow and wonders whether this task will prove to be the death of him. The Roshun assassin Ash is also in the thick of things, ready to take his own revenge on the Matriarch but struggling with the knowledge that this act goes against everything he has ever stood for.
No matter the outcome, the war is on in earnest now and the lives of everyone will change forever...

‘Stands a Shadow’ is a very different type of book to its predecessor and sometimes I found myself thinking that this perhaps worked against what Buchanan set out to achieve with ‘Farlander’. The good news though is that Buchanan does everything, that he did in ‘Farlander’, as well as he did last time round. The series is really beginning to take shape now and those hints of promise are paying off in a great way.

I said of ‘Farlander’ that is was a ‘manic romp that takes in politics affecting nations at war as well as bringing the people who shape these nations into sharp focus’ and this is still the case with ‘Stands a Shadow’. Through his cast, Buchanan shows us once again that the sweeping movement of warfare and politics is made up of ordinary people who can affect the larger picture in the most unexpected of ways. The nature of the book means that this balance has shifted slightly though and not necessarily in a good way. The bottom line is that ‘Stands in Shadow’ concentrates more on the big picture itself than what it’s made up of and, as a result, the book lacks the more intimate and personal tone that its predecessor did. That’s not to say that it isn’t there at all because it very clearly is. It’s just not given the same kind of treatment that it got last time.

It’s a very good job then that Buchanan proves to be more than adept at showing just how difficult it can be to get an army from A to B whilst dealing with storms, supply shortages and the other army that is doing its best to get from B to A. You really get a feel for the drudgery and just what it’s like to be an invading army on foreign soil for the first time; you can’t help but follow such a realistically drawn path to its inevitable conclusion.

When you reach that conclusion you will find that Buchanan has lost none of the ability he originally displayed, in ‘Farlander’, for writing scenes of war that punch you right in the guts as you’re seeing others (on the page) lose theirs all over the battlefield. The character of Curl is used to good affect here (as a battlefield medic) as a means of showing the reader just what it’s like to really be up close and in the thick of things. Anything can happen and it will... just when you least expect it. Buchanan loves springing surprises on his readers and none of his characters are safe from one another. There’s one moment in particular that I wouldn’t have thought would happen in only the second book of a series, it’s good to see that Buchanan is happy to take risks with his story and see where it leads.

The battles that Buchanan shows us are the culmination of pages of intrigue and trickery, more often than not within the same faction. Again, neither side is safe from this treatment and Buchanan does very well to show us how mankind’s inherent selfishness can make things a lot worse than they should ever be. Ironic really, considering the creed of one of the opposing sides. There are plenty of twists and turns to the plot, all of which did a sterling job of keeping me turning those pages.

The supporting cast might not get as much attention as they did last time round but Buchanan still does more than enough to give us a fully fleshed cast who cannot fail to be affected by what is happening around them. Chief amongst these is Ash whose dilemma, over taking revenge, is played out until the very last chapters; all done at just the right pace to maintain interest over the course of the book. Ash has plenty to think about in this regard and I couldn’t help but find myself thinking it through with him.
I enjoyed seeing Curl slowly come to play a more prominent role in the book and the way that her relationship with Che played out made for some very touching moments; I really want to see what happens next with these two.

‘Stands a Shadow’ takes things in a direction that I wasn’t too sure of but still manages to come up with a gripping tale of politics and bloody warfare that will not fail to stir you when it really counts. Tor have come up with another series that I’ve found myself hopelessly caught up in... and I’m loving it.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten


Nick Sharps said...

I just started reading Farlander a couple days ago and I love it. Definitely not a perfect novel but it is a nice change of pace from other fantasy books and it is certainly unique. The Empire of Mann is what really sold the book for me, those guys are seriously creepy.

Rosalie Skinner said...

Great review Graeme. It sounds like I should start with Farlander, but you do make Stands with Shadow sound rather enticing.
Thanks for sharing your insight!
Anything to make commuting time go faster sounds like a winner.