Friday, 21 November 2008

‘Shadowrealm’ – Paul S. Kemp (Wizards of the Coast)


What better way to end a week of ‘quick reads on the tube’ with the last book of a trilogy where the previous two instalments have been thrilling examples of action and introspection... I read Paul S. Kemp’s ‘Shadowbred’ and ‘Shadowstorm’ last year and had a lot of fun in the process, they also cured me of a rather snobbish attitude towards ‘shared world’ fiction. I’d still say that the quality can very between authors but at least these days I’ll pick the books up and give them a go!
I’ve been looking forward to ‘Shadowrealm’ ever since I finished ‘Shadowstorm’ but the second book left me with concerns that the final instalment would have trouble living up to the standard set by it’s predecessor. Having just finished ‘Shadowrealm’ over my lunch break I was left with the feeling that I had been proved right but I was also left with that slightly breathless feeling you get when a book has picked you up, shaken you by the neck and left you in a crumpled heap up a corner...

The final moments of ‘Shadowstorm’ saw Kesson Rel send the Shadowstorm ravaging its way across the country of Sembia in an attempt to appease his Goddess. Various players, in events spanning the first two books, cannot allow this to happen but although their goals may be the same their motives are not. Some want absolute power, Erevis Cale only wants to fulfil a promise to a dead friend and do the right thing. Everyone has their own idea of what the right thing is but no-one will really understand the price they must pay until they have to pay it...

‘Shadowrealm’ is a book that resonates with the clash of sword against shield, thunderous spells being cast and the death throes of entire planets as they fall under the sway of the Lady of Loss. Considering the book is only three hundred and thirty eight pages long, I think Kemp does a bloody good job to fit all of this in! The pages crackle with excitement in a story where no space is wasted. Spectacle is the order of the day and Kemp comes up with the goods in battles and duels that are intense to say the least.

If this wasn’t enough for the reader (and I would have been happy with this on its own) Kemp also gives the reader a good long look at each character and what motivates them. This is a book about decisions and the journeys that arise from them, every action has a consequence and Kemp explores what this means for everyone playing a part in this tale. Sacrifice and redemption (not necessarily the same thing in some cases) are more often than not the end result in scenes that rage from powerful to poignant. Kemp is not afraid to let his characters make the wrong decision and for them to reap what they sow, he’s also not afraid to leave things open ended in one notable case...

When I read ‘Shadowstorm’ my main concern was that Kemp had peaked too early in terms of what he was sending Erevis up against. How was he going to top what he had pulled out of the hat? ‘Shadowrealm’ confirmed my suspicions in that the threat doesn’t get any bigger than before, to be fair it doesn’t need to but it felt a little ant-climatic (to me) to have the stakes raised over two books only to have things plateau in the third...

The pace of ‘Shadowrealm’ is such that you won’t really care about minor issues like this though. There is a lot happening and it’s happening at speed!
I’ve very much enjoyed this trilogy and if you’re a fan of heroic fantasy then I reckon you will too. Definitely one to try if you’re after an entertaining (but quick) read.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

2 comments:

Dave said...

Great stuff, I glad that I keep on hearing good things about Paul's work; it bodes well for his Star Wars book! :-)

Graeme Flory said...

Paul's going to be writing Star Wars books? That'll be worth checking out...