01 December 2016

Books: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington (2014/2016)

We reached a point in fantasy literature, I think, where the writers of the late 1970s, into the 80s and the early part of 90s who were influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien are now having newest generation of fantasy writers being inspired by them. James Islington, born and raised in southern Victoria in Australia, grew up reading the works of Robert Jordan and Raymond Feist (again, influenced by Tolkien). He then went onto more modern writers like Patrick Rothfuss and, of course, Brandon Sanderson.

Deciding he wanted to create his own fantasy world, he self-published The Shadow of What Was Lost back in 2014 (and now picked up by Orbit Book and released this fall). This is the first book in a trilogy called The Licanius. And while it generally offers nothing new to this well worn genre, Islington does give us a worthy start. But would I continue reading on?

“It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs - once thought of almost as gods - were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs' fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion's Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience. As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.  But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is.”

It has occurred to me the reason that Lord of the Rings trilogy was successful was because it never was planned to be a trilogy. It was the publishers that forced Tolkien, who wrote it as one book, to have it split into three. This worked because as he was writing it, Tolkien did not have to create a natural act break, or cliffhanger to get people to continue reading a second book. The publisher just found natural areas at which to end one book and begin another. But these days, with series books breaking out of the natural trilogy format into six, eight, ten, or more volumes, we know all the revelations happen towards the end and that the reader will spend hundreds of pages of set up just so we can be left with a huge cliffhanger. 

And while I found this book to more accessible than Robert Jordan’s overlong, mostly bloated Wheel of Time series, it is still way too long –by at least 150 pages. The book falls into the same chasm as Jordan’s series: it needs a better editor who can tell the writer they need to tone down the rhetoric and get to the point of the story. The whole reason I think Jordan’s series flew past the original seven it started out was because the writer married his editor. Yes, I think there was huge conflict of interest here. 

Islington’s fondness of capitalizing everything quickly grows weary. He has characters mention multiple conflicts which, I assume, is designed to give his world a long history, but I find little point in them. It’s just (capital) words that really adds nothing to the story. He also has the tendency have characters start a story only to have them suddenly say, “the rest is for another time” or “respect my wishes when I say I did this for some blah, blah reason.” 

He does have some impressive world building here, and some interesting characters such as Davian (a really well defined character that truly seems confused about what is going on) and Asha (whose political storyline at the homefront, so to speak, is much more fun than anything else in the book). But everyone else has some secret agenda or are not who they say they are, which bogs down the prose, flirting with a sort of soap opera-ish style dialogue that borders on parody.

The book takes the long road to get to its point, but long before then, I figured out who one character was (yes, no surprise there). But did I enjoy it? A little. But I don't think this series holds any more surprises for me.

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