Shadow and Sword by N.K. Carlson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Reith sets off to hunt one morning, little does he expect to come back to find his town under attack. Following instructions, Reith sets off alone to the ruined city of Erador in hopes of reuniting with his mentor, Master Chronicler Vereinen. Instead, he only uncovers more danger - and an ancient sword of gold, silver, and copper.
Shadow and Sword
starts off at a run, then doubles back a little to events that happened earlier in the day. I know the general writing advice now is to start in media res but this was a little...awkward, and could have just have started in sequence anyway because of the short time covered. Still, it works well enough. Reith gains sympathy as the young apprentice trying his best in unexpected circumstances; the Gray Man is a chilling villain, a vague, unsettling shadow looming over the towns of Coeden and Suthrond.
As Reith travels Terrahsohnen, the reader is drawn into a fascinating world where humans, dwarves, and elves once worked together before the dragons laid waste to Erador and left behind the scorched swath of dead land called Dragonscar. We don't know why - it's part of the unfolding mystery, along with the reasons for the current animosity between humans and elves and the growing evil.
Carlson's literary inspirations are maybe a little obvious here. Reith breaks out into a spontaneous rhyming song. There's a magical circle of trees that provide sustenance and safety for Reith as they whisper at him, reminiscent of the Ents. And then there's a voice that speaks to Reith, one that "had a memory from the dawn of time and ... could see into the future" which hints at Aslan.
And that's the thing. Shadow and Sword is an interesting enough read, but if I had one complaint, it would be that everything becomes a tad predictable at some point. What could have been an exciting plot twist came off to me as "oh, yeah, that was like what happened in [book]" which is maybe more of a "we have the same literary tastes" problem than anything else.
And so the novel ends with the convening of the fellowship, with the sword-bearer poised to bring light to fight the Shadow.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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