Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Shadows Darken

Shadow's Lure
Jon Sprunk
Pyr, $16.00, 391 p.

I want a glowing green girlfriend that nobody else can see or hear who can walk through walls.

Don't tell my wife I said that.  She would probably entertain objections to the idea.

But it would be convenient to have one.  For instance, she could tell me when danger was around the corner.  Like Kit does in the Shadow series.

Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son was one of the first books I reviewed after starting this blog, and it was good to revisit the world and characters. The publisher's web site says this title was published last June, but I didn't see a copy on the shelves of a bookstore until October, which until I started writing this post is when I assumed it was published.  If I'd known it came out last summer, this review would have been written months ago.  Just so you know, there are some mild spoilers for Shadow's Son in the following paragraphs.   Don't say I didn't warn you.

Shadow's Lure is a much longer book than its predecessor. It also seems me to be much darker.  It's been well over a year since I read Shadow's Son, so my  memory could be at fault.  (That happens more and more these days as I get older.  It seems...what was I talking about?  I can't recall.) 

Not that darker and longer are bad things.  The story needed to be longer because there were two major plot lines in separate geographical locations.  If anything, the book could have been longer than it was.  I felt part of the story concerning Josey, now Empress of Nimea, had some of its conflict wrapped up a little too neatly at the end, making that part feel rushed.

Josey, you'll recall, stayed behind at the end of Shadow's Son to assume the throne, while Caim went north to discover the truth about his parents' deaths.  Josey's story is separate from Caim's and much less of the book is devoted to it.  She is being pressured to marry and begin producing heirs, undermined by the Church, and fighting multiple wars.  And that's only the beginning of her troubles.  I felt some portions of her situation could have been expanded, and maybe they'll be developed more fully in the next book, Shadow's Master, but it would have been nice to see a little more interaction between her and some of her opponents at times, or at least have the opponents more fully fleshed out.  In many ways I found her story more interesting than Caim's because it was more complicated.  But these are minor gripes.

Caim's storyline is the central portion of the tale, and it's more straightforward, with fewer plot twists.  Instead Sprunk spends his time developing Caim's character and filling the reader in on his family history as well as giving us a little more information about Kit.  Early on, after being injured in a bear attack, Caim falls in with some rebels in the land of his birth who are fighting against the duke.  The duke has taken a lover who is a witch, and she is really the one running the kingdom.  Sprunk lets us know early on just how evil she is.  Throughout the course of the novel he also lets us know her motivations, so we're not entirely without sympathy for her, even as we're cheering for her defeat.

The rebels are a ragtag bunch, all bluster with little real experience in combat.  Caim finds himself being drawn into his rebellion against his will, ultimately becoming their leader.  This is not a burden he willingly shoulders, and it's not without cost, both to himself and to others, and a high cost at that.  By high cost, I mean lives lost.

The body count in this one is high, but the deaths are never gratuitous.  Every instance of slaughter serves a purpose to the story.  I don't recall any killing or dying being included for shock effect.

Sprunk's work has been favorably compared to that of Joe Abercrombie, and I think that's an accurate comparison in many ways.  Caim is a morally complex hero, or antihero if you prefer.  It's hard for some people to consider an assassin a true hero, but one of the things about Caim is that he's trying, actively trying, to be a better person.  He genuinely regrets the paths his life has taken, and Sprunk doesn't shy away from Caim's dealing with how his career choices have affected him.

Sprunk is also stretching himself as a writer.  Shadow's Lure is a more ambitious work than Shadow's Son, and while I think there is some room for improvement, I don't have any major complaints.  I've listed my only gripes above.  This is a more mature novel than the first installment in this series, and I liked Shadow's Son  a great deal.  There's plenty of combat, all of it well executed, but where Sprunk's growth as a writer really shows is in the depth of his characters.  They're complex, conflicted, and the ones who live to the end of the book not only change their circumstances but are changed by them. 

I said in a recent post that Pyr was the number one publisher to read in 2012.  This book is an example of why I said that.  I'm looking forward to the publication of Shadow's Master


  1. Have not read this series yet. I have heard of it. Sounds like it is fairly popular.

  2. It seems to be doing well. I've certainly enjoyed it so far and hope Jon Sprunk continues to write more books beyond the forthcoming third volume, whether in this series or not.