Book Review: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

fool's assassin

Format: hard cover, 1st edition, 2014

Pages:  667

Reading Time:  about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Fitz returns and assumes a quiet life away from Buckkeep, but the specter of Fool continues to haunt Fitz as he raises his new charges, right up to the explosive ending.

 

When I did a classic review of Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice several years ago, I probably did it a disservice in retrospect. That book was so good, I bought the two sequels, and then a second trilogy, and now I’ve embarked on yet another trilogy of sequels. It is a very rare book, and author, that can bring me to tears, and still fewer that can make the hurt so strong that it lasts for days. In fact, Hobb is probably the only author that has ever accomplished this feat as it relates to me as a reader. It happened during the first trilogy, and I will never forget it; Hobb earned my respect as one of my favorite writers, though I never read her Liveships or Rain Wilds series. She is a fellow Washington State native, and I met her once at a book signing at Powell’s Books. This new trilogy is one of the reasons that enticed me to return to reading, and now that the trilogy is complete, I’m ready to tackle it without having to wait for the sequels to be published. So how does this book measure up to her previous books? Read on to find out, and don’t worry about major spoilers – I will present those after the last paragraph as a separate section. There may be minor spoilers here and there, however. First it’s on to guest reviews, of which there are no shortage – which should tell you something about Hobb’s stature within the the literary world (as opposed to simply fantasy fiction)…

 

Memory Scarlett at In The Forest Of Stories states: “The book jumps ahead by years at a time; years where the Fool is nowhere to be seen. I became horribly anxious for him as the chapters ticked by with only the most ominous whispers to hint at his whereabouts. I worried about him for his own sake–Hobb is awfully good at making the reader worry about her characters–and I worried about Fitz’s reaction to his absence, particularly given his attitude towards the rest of his family. I should note, now, that the timeline does tend to slow the pace down. This wasn’t an issue for me, since I’m the sort of reader who’s quite happy to watch beloved characters live their lives and to guess which seemingly minor details are actually crucial bits of foreshadowing (another thing Hobb’s frighteningly good at), but I’m sure it has the potential to alienate some folks…I always anticipate the moment in any book where two storylines converge, allowing us to see each character through the other’s eyes. While that’s not quite what’s going on here, it’s still fascinating to see Fitz from someone else’s perspective. Prior to this, we’ve known only what he chose to record about himself, and what he imagined others had observed when they watched him at work. Y’all know I like him so much in large part because he’s an unreliable narrator, and his unreliability becomes even more apparent once we get Bee’s take on him…It’s interesting to note, too, that Fitz himself pauses to address the flaws in his own POV. He wonders how his interpretation of his own adventures has changed with the passing years, and to what extent his past accounts of his life are still fair and valid. In a similar vein, it’s interesting to see how Fitz’s interpretation of Bee fails to match her own sense of self. This is the sort of literary trickery that sends me into paroxyms of glee. I do so love to see multiple sides of a character. We also get plenty of fun bits where one of them thinks they’ve gotten something over on the other–but once we switch to the other POV, we learn they’re totally wrong. This sort of thing delights me. I must emphasize, too, how very much I liked Bee from the moment she began to tell her own tale. My feelings for her only intensified as the story progressed. I’m a total sucker for fictional children who actually come across as real people. Bee is intelligent and articulate, but she’s still very much a small child. She can absorb a great deal, but she doesn’t always interpret it correctly, whether it’s an historical treatise she’s swiped off Fitz’s desk or a conversation she’s overheard.

Lauren Davis at io9 says: “Hobb’s name is often linked to George R.R. Martin’s, and with good reason. Like Martin, she has built a world with a rich history and she uses a light—but often terrifying—touch with magic. But where Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a sprawling narrative spread across numerous characters, Hobb prefers intimacy, spending an entire book with just one or two characters’ voices in our heads. Fitz is so often stumbling for his place in a world that has little use for bastards, but a grave need for heroes. It takes a deft hand to ensure that parties and daily tasks and talk of distant politics aren’t boring, and Hobb manages to make this world rich and inviting, even while the shadow of future tragedies looms overhead. Much like Buckkeep Castle served as a significant character in the Farseer trilogy, so too is Withywoods manor an important character, one filled with its own secrets—a surprisingly appropriate home for a former assassin. For even in Withywoods, Fitz can’t escape the man he once was. And when the outside world intrudes upon his haven, Fitz once again has to decide who he wants to be and where his loyalties lie—something complicated by the changing shape of his immediate family…Hobb is an incredibly vivid writer who pays close attention to the interior lives of her characters. She can make you weep over a character’s death, sure, but she can also make you sigh over a conversation between a husband and wife who have finally found comfort in each other, or between a father and daughter struggling to understand one another. Her characters are alive, and a pleasure to spend time with even at their most frustrating. Fitz is a character we’ve watched grow from boyhood, but he’s still evolving, still learning the lessons that come with being a husband and father…Fool’s Assassin is a slow burn of a book, building to a cliffhanger that will clearly lead us into a more action-packed series. But its deep focus on character ensures that the story never drags. As I approached the last hundred pages of the novel, I found myself getting wistful, realizing I’d only get to spend a few more hours with these characters at this point in their lives—at least until the next book comes around. Fool’s Assassin feels like a visit with an old friend, one you haven’t seen in years but who still holds very special a place in your heart. Fitz may have grown older, but he’s still exciting company.

And finally, Justin Landon at Tor.com explains: “There’s little doubt that Fool’s Assassin will leave a wide variance of impressions on its readers. It is, without question, a slow novel. Comparing it to more pastoral family dramas would be more appropriate than the action packed epic fantasies the previous Farseer books are often compared. It’s also, unquestionably, beautifully written, with the kind of prose that not only compels you to keep reading, but manages to burrow beneath the skin and crawl around…Fool’s Assassin returns to the inside of Fitz’s head, reliably unreliably interpreting the actions of those around him. The reader is privy to his every thought, including journal entries that he writes of days long past. These entries, which open every chapter, are a phenomenal way for Hobb to remind the reader of what’s come before…Fitz is joined this time around by a second point of view, also written in the first person that bounces back and forth without obvious delineation. This second point of view, challenging as it can be to separate the two, elevates the lugubrious pace to a more interesting place. Written as a young adult novel, within an adult novel, these chapters provide an entirely new context to Fitz and the surrounding narrative. The character, who I won’t reveal for purposes of spoilers, is a classic fish out of water young person. She is different. Smaller than her peers, with a slight congenital disability, she struggles to adapt to the environment she finds herself in. Like Fitz, she’s often incapable of decoding the intent of those around her, assuming the worst in everyone (sometimes rightly), even her own family. She is put upon and misunderstood and far more capable than anyone expects, especially adults…Hobb’s alternate point of view suffers from some of the maladies, but in observing them in each other, the reader is given a much more comprehensive view of the issue. Our narrators are troubled individuals who are forced to not so much overcome their challenges, but succeed in spite of them…Although Fool’s Assassin is not a tour de force, it succeeds on a massive scale. Her prose sparkles, her characters leap off the page, and even her staid milieu is perfectly textured. I wanted to be bored, but she wouldn’t let me. I wanted to be annoyed by Fitz’s kvetching, but she made it impossible. I wanted to be thrown out of the story by the shifting points of view, but she ensured every single one had a point. In other words, Robin Hobb is an absolute master of the craft and it’s on full display in her newest novel.

 

I think all three of the reviews above absolutely nailed much of how I feel about this book. The pacing is agonizingly slow. In Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz’s character is defined through a coming of age story, where proving one’s worth, depending on friends, and simply surviving are the key takeaways. In Fool’s Assassin, the pastoral setting (as Justin describes it), focus on relationships, and reminiscing about the past – which serves as a recap for those who haven’t read the previous series or a reminder for those who have – robs the story of any tension. Most writers would lose readers if they attempted this, but Hobbs’ brilliance is that her characters are so real and so engaging that you can’t help but to be fascinated by them, even when they are performing the most routine tasks or having pages of conversations. The closest parallel I think of from a writing standpoint is Charles Dickens, where the characters and their relationships carry an otherwise mundane story.

Another brilliant move by Hobbs, as Justin points out, is duality of narration. Bee’s perspective is also a coming of age story, which is heavily formulaic in fantasy writing, but it is balanced by the viewpoint of Fitz, who is an older and far more experienced character, and a viewpoint from an older character is something seldom seen in modern fantasy. The balance here is superb. As Memory Scarlett mentioned above, certain events are seen from contrasting perspectives, which is fascinating, and often one narrator makes assumptions about the other that are off base. In this way Bee is very much like Fitz.

Of the three charges that Fitz must look after (much in the way he raised the boy Hap in previous books), Bee is the most engaging and fully developed. She is intelligent for her age, but not infallible, and I absolutely loved her character. She becomes central to the plot, and her odd quirks, small stature and quiet demeanor only make her more endearing. FitzVigilant (or Lant for short) was a confusing character. He arrives far too late in the story to have a serious impact, and his contrasting behaviors gave me no insight to his motivations or feelings, and no clue as to how I should feel about him. And then there’s Shun. When Fitz first meets Shun, she behaves in a completely different way than she does later when she arrives at Withywoods as Fitz’s charge. In fact, I had to go back and re-read a previous chapter just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. In my mind, Hobb made a big mistake with the consistency of Shun’s character, and it really irked me, but most readers probably won’t notice it. Hobb always gives us (at least) one character to despise, and despite the presence of some young bullies, for me, Shun had the most unsympathetic personality traits.

Fitz himself spends much of the story flitting between happiness, brooding, and grief. He continues to show that he has difficulty in being a good (and dare I say competent) father or ward to his charges. The brooding and grief are a major factor in the slowness of the pace, and at times his self-pity is extremely annoying, which had me looking forward to Bee’s narrations more. Still, with all Fitz has been through it’s hard to be critical of him. And he does make progress in his relationship with his daughter Nettle. I enjoyed Nettle’s character and wish she had more pages devoted to her. Riddle, Nettle’s love and Fitz’s good friend, does have a more prominent role here which is welcome. And Revel, the Withywoods butler, is a delight. But it is Molly that is the most important character in Fool’s Assassin. In almost every aspect of the story, Molly’s impact drives many of the feelings and actions that take place. I have always had a love/hate relationship with Molly. In earlier books I felt she was an unnecessary distraction, and up until now I felt her characterization was lacking the most of any prominent character. However, in Fool’s Assassin, Hobb has turned that around, and kudos are due to her for accomplishing that feat.

The plot, Molly’s impact notwithstanding, largely revolves around the absence of Fool. The mystery of his disappearance and lack of contact unfortunately undermines the plot, as very little is revealed until the final pages. And some red herrings that lead the mystery off in the wrong direction don’t help. In fact, the title of the book is deceptive, as it refers to Fitz feeling the absence of Fool rather than doing any killing on Fool’s behalf. Overall, I thought the plot was weaker and more of a problem than the pacing. The characters are really the driving force that save the story. The pace and tension do pick up over the last 100 pages, and I had to catch myself as I jumped ahead to see what was going to happen.

The setting of Withywoods couldn’t be a better place to set the story. Once bequeathed to Fitz’s father Chivalry and his wife Patience, it now belongs to Nettle, Chivalry’s granddaughter, since Fitz is believed to be dead and is now known as Tom Badgerlock. From its secret passages and interesting rooms, to the ghosts that are seen in its hallways, it is like a miniature version of Buckkeep, minus the political intrigue of court and the protection of armed guards. I found the rural, pastoral lands around Withywoods to be quite charming, and yet it is close to Memory Stones that allow immediate travel to Buckkeep.

One last thing I wanted to point out was it is not easy to pick this book up if you only have a 15 or 20 minute period available to read. Some of the chapters go 30 pages or more without a break. It means you must stop somewhere in the middle of a conversation or action sequence and the next time you pick up the book, you have to remember exactly where you left off and what was happening when you left off. Most books I’ve read lately don’t have this problem, but in Fool’s Assassin it can be tough to find a good stopping point.

In conclusion, several reviews that I had read made me concerned that due to pacing I would not enjoy this book, and that was absolutely not the case. I found the story fascinating despite the reminiscing about previous events and moodiness and grief that often drag the story down. I hate to admit it, but it is largely Bee’s coming of age viewpoint that saves the story. Hobb not only validates her place as one of my favorite writers, but once again displays deft prose and top notch characterization that cement the FitzChivalry books as some of the finest writing in not only modern fantasy, but also in any genre. With other reviewers claiming that each book in the Fitz and the Fool series is increasingly better, I’m looking forward with eager anticipation to Fool’s Quest, the sequel to Fool’s Assassin. Unfortunately, due to the size of the queue I’ll be well into next year before I can pick it up.

 

SPOILER ALERT

Do not read any further unless you don’t plan on reading Fool’s Assassin, have already read it and are checking out my review to get my take, or if you feel that spoilers won’t affect your enjoyment of the story. Seriously. These are major spoilers. You have been warned!

I wanted to add another section with spoilers because I feel that there are some features of the story that should be pointed out, yet doing so would ruin the enjoyment of discovering events in the story for oneself. A separate spoiler section seemed like the best way to accomplish this.

The first thing I want to bring up is Molly’s pregnancy. Hobb does a commendable job in tricking me into thinking that Molly has lost her mind. The birth of Bee was as astonishing as it was improbable, especially given Molly’s age. When Bee is described, my immediate thought was “that sounds like one of Fool’s race”. This is a key point which, along with Bee’s lengthy time in the womb and strangely advanced intelligence led me to the conclusion that Bee was Fool’s hidden “son”. Fool’s gender has always been in question, so it only makes sense that Fool’s “son” may not actually be a boy at all. Still I questioned my reasoning, especially when Fitz meets Jofron, and I was convinced that her grandson was actually Fool’s son. Until, that is, one passage in the story reminded me that Fitz had a transcendent experience where he had actually been in the body of Fool. You would need to read the previous series to understand this, but to me it became clear – Fitz’s brief merger with Fool allowed Bee to come into existence in this new series. It explains how Molly could conceive at her age, the length of the pregnancy, where Bee’s intelligence comes from, and Bee’s physical appearance. I’ll be immensely pleased with myself for figuring the mystery out early on if that turns out to be true in the following books.

The next subject I want to expand on is the inconsistency of Shun’s character. When Fitz first meets Shun, she is posing as a barmaid, and believes herself to be Chade’s assassin-in-training, with a hefty dose of cockiness. Yet when she arrives in Withywoods, she acts like a spoiled royal whose only concern is her wardrobe and living conditions, and proves to be largely inept in a time of crisis. These two depictions of her character are completely at odds with each other, and the inconsistency makes no sense. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, though, if it turns out that Shun is simply a good actress.

Finally, I was excited to discover that Bee is sensitive to the Skill, may have a form of the Wit, and possesses the ancestral memory of Nighteyes. I can’t wait to see what happens to her character. Should Bee survive to the end, I could see another series that features her instead of Fitz – a brilliant set up by Hobb…

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Status Update 9-28-18

My home internet has been down for a week so I’m a bit behind on reviews. Now that I have internet again I’ve started the review for Fool’s Assassin, which will hopefully be done within the next few days. I should be finishing reading Port of Shadows by then so that review should follow shortly. Then it’s on to the mammoth The Way of Kings…I’m targeting that review for sometime in early November, but there should be a couple of classic reviews between now and then…

Book Review: The Shadow Of What Was Lost by James Islington

shadow what was lostFormat:  Hard cover, 1st Edition, 2016

Pages:  693

Reading Time: about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Young students of magic Davian and Wirr, despite being limited by rules and prejudice, investigate the potential of failing of a magical barrier while traveling with two accused murderers who are more than they seem, while they and their friend Asha try to prevent an invasion that threatens the entire kingdom.

 

I’m not sure what first attracted me to The Shadow of What Was Lost…I may have seen a review on another site, or Amazon might have suggested it based on my reading habits. I do remember being struck by the beautiful simplicity of the cover, and then intrigued by the comparisons to the Wheel of Time series. However, still I hesitated, afraid that The Shadow of What Was Lost was a pale imitation of Robert Jordan’s series (that itself suffered from serious flaws). So was my apprehension warranted? Read on to find out, and I promise to call out spoilers ahead of time. But first, let’s take a look at some other opinions:

 

Mark Yon of SFFWorld states: “I must admit I found this first part wasn’t inspiring to begin with. It’s an attempt to be filmic that doesn’t entirely work for me, has dialogue that screams “cliché!” and a lot of information-dumping to set up the plot. However if you can accept that this is a debut novel and a big novel, it is worth sticking with…There are parts that I liked, especially once past the beginning. Once it settles down and the main plot gets going, there’s lots of running and being hunted, which was quite exciting, and there’s even a couple of nearly-unexpected twists along the way (as well as a couple that were blindingly obvious.)…It is clearly a character driven tale. The dialogue between the characters is generally good, though there’s the occasional clunk of dialogue info-dumping. It is perhaps to be expected with a debut novel of this size, though, and not too jarring for the reader. What keeps you reading are the characters – their wishes, worries, beliefs, loves and back-stories, all of which flesh out the plot and the world as we go…Perhaps my biggest concern is that despite Shadow being such a big book there’s a lot happening without a great deal of explanation. Characters do things without being given a real need or understanding of why they must do these things. Though, as readers, we are told that things are important, there’s little said about why they must do things, and so our engagement with things, our concern for the characters, is less. The mysterious and enigmatic enemy has a presence but it never seems as if our heroes are in genuine peril. The deaths of characters mean surprisingly little as there has been little given to make us care about them. In the end it feels like a book with epic width but little depth.

Robert H. Bedford at Tor.com says: “Islington devotes a great deal of the novel to providing background information about his characters and the depth of history of his world. The connections between the characters and that deep history is revealed over the novel’s nearly 700 pages giving a great deal of detail to them. Each of the primary characters possesses a mystery or secret about them, they aren’t exactly what they seem. Adding to the “secret mystery” is that most of these primary characters have very thin memories of themselves, only going back to just before the novel began…Having read many epic fantasy novels and series, “hints of things to come” in later volumes is to be expected and probably part of why longer series are popular. However, the balance between those hints of something substantive being revealed in later volumes and revealing information in the immediacy of the current volume was uneven. The character’s journeys also suffered from a sense hollowness. They were told to go places, but the destination wasn’t always clear and the reason for their journey wasn’t always clear. It felt like the story knew it needed to arrive at certain points and was determined to get there despite itself, in the same way a parent says “Because I said so,” with no other reason…Unfortunately, too much of the nearly 700 pages of The Shadow of What Was Lost was world-building and showing what the characters were rather than getting to know who the characters were. While the characters had a great deal of historical depth, their emotive depth was not on an equal footing…When a novel is boldly compared by readers to The Wheel of Time, the expectations are clearly high. Those high expectations are also unfair, too. That may be the case for The Shadow of What Was Lost. Although I was able to take that comparison with a large grain of salt, Islington did manage to impress me with the historical scope of his world. He has a knack of sorts for world-building and injecting smaller stretches of narrative with tension and immersion. In the end, The Shadow of What Was Lost offers a great deal of promise, but is ultimately very uneven which is typical of a debut novel. There were sparks of enthralling storytelling sprinkled throughout the novel, but if the whole of the novel could match the immersive, narrative pull of the conclusion, the novel would have been much stronger overall.

Fabiloa of The Nerd Daily opines: “Not only does it have an inspiring plot, but it is also well executed in terms of delivery. Do not be fooled by the beginning of the story, which might seem pretty straight forward; the plot is surprising with fast-paced narration and many twists and turns, credible ones too, which can leave a reader breathless. It is most definitely an action-packed story featuring compelling characters with a whole world to discover; and a world to save…There are several aspects of the book that are outstanding. First and foremost, the magic system. Actually, the magic systems; yes, plural!…Quite frankly, the book does a great job in describing who the Shadows are and how poorly they are treated and what they can really do. Their story, thanks to Asha, becomes almost addictive. For instance, it becomes apparent that the Shadows are not willing to be simply mistreated as they are tired of being the invisible ones and they are ready to do something about that. Scheming, politics, the hidden (or not so hidden) agendas of all the parties involved in this story, from the ruling family of Andarra, to the Gifted, to the Shadows—everyone has a goal and no-one is ready for the war that the Blind bring to the capital…The story also explores in some detail various family relationships and, in particular, a father-son relationship that flourishes throughout the narration of Wirr’s storyline. This is a relationship that helps Wirr transform from a reluctant hero to an involved and inspired member of the royal family, understanding what is at stake and become willing to do his part. It is not revolutionary in the genre, yet the character is passionate and sincere in his motives. Yet, the main driver for his change, his father, might not be as enlightened as Wirr thinks he is. Which leaves space for a great character development (or the opposite?) for Wirr; or will James Islington plot another twist that readers will not see coming?

Finally, Richard Bray at Fantasy Faction concludes: “What makes Islington’s debut so exciting in this, the first book in the Licanius Trilogy, is his storytelling ability. While the general setup is familiar as your own handwriting – a young man discovers he has mysterious powers and must go on the run so he can learn how to master those powers and help his friends defeat the mysterious and terrifying army swarming down upon them – Islington executes the story well with likeable characters, strong pacing and a touch of humor. It’s clearly modeled after Jordan and Rothfuss and Sanderson, but it’s done well enough that it’s more a celebration of those previous authors and stories than a forgery, and Islington’s world-building adds some interesting touches that could allow the sequels to expand into uncharted territory…Davian is a likeable, intelligent protagonist, and his friends Wirr and Asha are equally compelling. Asha is an especial delight, as Islington avoids the struggles with female protagonists that plagued much of The Wheel of Time…They seem like characters who haven’t reached their full potential yet, but over the course of the novel we see them develop toward the cusp of adulthood and responsibility (this too was an issue The Wheel of Time struggled with at times). Islington supplements Davian’s story with Caeden, a young man who woke up in the middle of the woods with no recollection of who he is – or whether he is guilty of the mass murder he’s accused of. Caeden’s struggle to discover who he is makes him one of the most interesting pieces to the story, and differentiates the book from merely being a copy of the most common fantasy tropes available. Caeden’s discovery of who he is and how he came to be in his current predicament is surprisingly powerful…The Shadow of What Was Lost feels like a relatively light read – the paperback is 602 pages, but they fly by quickly. There are some moments of graphic violence, but for the most part, it is again in line with The Wheel of Time and its other inspirations.

 

After reading the first two reviews, you could forgive me for being apprehensive about diving into a trope-ridden story. Coming-of-age and kids in a magic school…who needs more of that?! Fortunately the magic school portion of the story ends fairly quickly, with the kids headed out to face danger and accomplish great things after only a few chapters. I won’t recap the plot here; I recommend going to Islington’s website and reading it there. Also make sure you check out the handy Extras feature he has on the site; even though the book itself contains a map (thank you Mr. Islington!), a hi res full color version appears on his site, as well as a glossary that includes pronunciation.

Islington presents his story from multiple viewpoints. The three main youngsters – Davian, Wirr and Asha – are likable and easy to root for. Davian and Asha go through quite a bit of change as the story progresses. Davian is impulsive and tends to do the opposite of what he is instructed to do, often with serious consequences. It is a great character flaw that makes him more believable. His change by the end of the story comes in the form of a more serious and less easy-going personality. Asha begins the story as an innocent girl but by the end has developed into an intelligent, determined, and loyal young woman and is a delight to read. Wirr, on the other hand, doesn’t really change much by the end of the story, and is the least compelling character so far. A few other important viewpoints are explored, such as Caeden and Taeris Sarr, as well as those of a couple of other minor characters. During parts of the story, several of the characters experience loss. I appreciate that while there is loss and grieving, Islington doesn’t devote pages and pages to emo-like grief, choosing instead to mention it and it’s impact and move on, without burying the reader and keeping the story’s pace from bogging down. It is a decision I wholeheartedly approve of.

In my opinion, the best thing about Islington’s story is not his characters, nor is it the plot or the adventure; rather, it’s his worldbuilding that I find stands out. From the early advanced race (the Builders) through thousands of years of history, full of magic and different cultures, wars and near-immortals, items of power, strange creatures, and fairy tales – Islington’s world is deep and imaginative. However, throughout the book we only get small glimpses into those past times. Some of those ancient people, creatures, and artifacts are “awakening”, for lack of a better term, and a magical barrier is failing, both of which explain why those magical beings and items are found in the time of that the story is set in. I would have liked to have seen more of that worldbuilding…right now it falls a bit short of Jordan or Alec Hutson, simply because Islington is holding back in order to set the stage and develop his characters…but I know it’s there and I’m hoping that he reveals more of it in the next book.

The best way for an author to reveal his world is to have his characters go on a quest. That is essentially the plot of the book – Davian and Wirr go on a quest that allows Islington to present different aspects of his world. There is an interesting portion around the middle of the book where Davian experiences time traveling. Some say the book lags here as Davian learns to explore his hitherto undiscovered abilities. I though it was intriguing, and there are a couple of instances in the book where Davian has traveled back from the future and to make an appearance in the present. This was absolutely fascinating to me, and shows that Islington has enough of the plot mapped out to where future events (that he hasn’t even written yet) are making themselves known now.

I understand the criticisms by other reviewers that said it seemed as the characters were told to go to places and do things, but the reason wasn’t quite clear. Yet it wasn’t as much of a problem for me. Maybe there are subtle hints provided by Islington that I picked up on, or perhaps I was just following along blindly as the characters were claimed to have been doing. Initially Davian, Witt and Asha follow the instructions they are given because they really have no choice. As they learn more, however, and opportunities are presented, they very clearly make their own decisions. Asha’s story in particular involved a lot of courage and determination, and she certainly blazed her own trail regardless of what she was told to do. In fact, her story involving the Shadows – those people who had their magic stripped away – is incredibly compelling and the best part of the book.

Caeden’s character gets a nice, twisty reveal that makes you wonder what is truly good and evil in this story…is it the king and his brother, who have repressed magic out of fear? Is it the magic council, that wants nothing more than to rule again over those that have no magic? Is it the Shadows, who have their own agenda that involves the slaughter of innocents if necessary? Is it Aarkein Davaed, who may or may not be good depending on his ultimate goal? Is it the fallen king in the fairy tale that Davian discovers, who may or may not be Aarkein Davaed? Or is it something we haven’t seen yet? There’s a lot of gray area and not enough information to know which way to turn yet…and that’s a good thing. And speaking of twists and turns, there are a couple of them that I didn’t see coming. One involves Caeden as mentioned above; another involves Wirr and his father; and yet another involves Taeris Sarr. Islington has put a lot of work into keeping secrets until he is ready to reveal them, and still there are more that remain unanswered for now.

In conclusion, it is easy to see where the comparisons to the Wheel of Time come from. The Shadow of What Was Lost is very much a homage to that work, yet manages to establish its own identity. Where my concern lies is in the book’s length…will 3 volumes be enough for Islington to be able to tell his story from start to finish? The Wheel of Time series spans 14 door-stopping books…granted, much of that is due to Jordan’s ridiculous sprawl, but still…the point is, can The Licanius Trilogy contain everything we want to know in only two more volumes? It seems unlikely. Still, I’m hoping that it does, because I loved every minute of The Shadow of What Was Lost. The pages flew by, I didn’t want to set it down and couldn’t wait to get back to it when I did – and ultimately that is the true mark of a great story. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, An Echo of Things to Come, with great anticipation.

Update 9-13-18

Hello everyone!

I thought I would have my review done for The Shadow of What Was Lost by now, but a mini-cold virus followed by some long hours at work has kept me from finishing it. Hopefully I’ll wrap up writing my review and have it posted in the next day or two.

While I was bedridden by the cold I did start reading Fool’s Assassin, and I’m making good progress despite the slow pace. Port of Shadows is scheduled to be delivered to me today, but it will now have to sit in the queue until I finish the current read…

Added Links And Other News

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend. I managed to buy some new bookcases and move them into the shop (about the only place I have room for them), and also to get some much needed yard work done, although such endeavors always seem to come with a cost…in my case, aches and pains over most of my body. It feels I’ve been worked over by a pack of orcs with billy clubs, and I’ve got the bruises and blackberry scratches to prove it.

I’ve added a few more links to the Blogroll in left sidebar. These sites that I’ve provided links to are ones that I’ve been visiting for awhile now. They offer a lot of new content on a regular basis, and I find myself going to some of them more and more for “guest” reviews. They are:

Bookworm Blues
Bookwraiths
Elitist Book Reviews
Fantasy Faction
Forbidden Planet
Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews
The Fantasy Hive
The Royal Library

David Benem’s autographed copy of The Wrath of Heroes arrived last week and has been added to the queue. It sounds like I may have managed to rope Mr. Benem into an interview, so look for that sometime in the near future.

wrath of heroes

I’m halfway through James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost, so it’s probably going to be another week before I finish and can start working on a review.

Finally, I ran into some formatting issues with the new theme, mainly with over half of the thumbnail images in the right sidebar refusing to display as a thumbnail, despite the settings indicating that they were. I had to open up each image and custom format the size of the thumbnails to get them to display properly. What a time-consuming pain! Many years ago I was frustrated by formatting issues in WordPress, and switching to the new theme brought back some of those old headaches. Fortunately I seem to be able to find a workaround for most of the problems, so things are looking (almost) the way I’d like them to.