Anyone who loves well developed fantasy worlds filled with fascinating characters will love “The Shadow of What Was Lost.” I found myself immersed in the book making the large size of it easier to digest as the writing style is fantastic and easy to be entranced by.
The story follows the tale of four different protagonists all following their own unique storylines. While they all work towards saving the kingdom, they do so facing their own trials often independent of the others. Davian’s struggle with essence and learning more about his Augur abilities is quite fun and satisfying as you see his progress throughout the story. Wirr is more than a sidekick along for the ride and it shows as you see him grow more comfortable and confident in who he is. But Asha’s story was the real winner in my opinion. I was excited and relieved to find her becoming a more independent character rather than a damsel to be rescued. Often I found myself more invested and excited reading about her story of subterfuge and pseudo-espionage. I would have given the Character Development a 10/10 had it not been for one issue. Without spoiling anything, I found one part of the story to be unnecessary and more damaging than contributing to the story. It felt like a strange way to put him in a situation where he was forced to learn something new. It’s not overall damaging to the plotline, but I found that it did pull me from the story and I felt detached as I pushed myself to read it.
The land of Andarra is full of wonder and intrigue as you learn more about the kingdom and its neighbouring lands. The surprising thing is just how deep this world is. With how thick the book is, it still only scratches the surface of the background lore and mythos. While I do find myself craving more information as to why the world is the way it is, I find it almost too deep at times. There are numerous references to past events, characters and societies that are a bit too much to remember at times. There were a few times I found myself confused as to who or what the characters were discussing. I found myself often confused when pulled out of the story into more of the background mythos. It almost feels akin to Tolkien’s world where there was so much in the background of the main story that it was easy to become lost in it. While most of the background lore in the story is explained in a manner that is both integrated into the story and doesn’t break the flow of the plot, I found some points where names and locations were thrown around that I had trouble remembering everything.
Essence is the main focal point of everything in the story. The way it is wonderfully crafted you can tell that a lot of care and attention to detail was given to make it a fully fleshed out magic system. At no point does it ever become convoluted, making for an easy to understand system of magic with clearly defined rules and limitations. The emphasis on the tenets and their limitations is also quite amazing to see just how much it affects the day to day life of the average gifted student. The intolerance and distrust you see in every day citizens is really well done.
With the exception of one point in the story, it never feels like the story falls flat. The plot moves along at a great pace and each chapter adds something new and exciting to the overall story. A word of warning however, there is a point where time travel happens. Now personally I HATE time travel with a passion. It’s almost never done right and often ends up in an overly complicated plotline that is difficult to follow. Now thankfully that doesn’t happen here but it still does slam the breaks on the story in an awkward manner that I feel was unnecessary. Likely it was included to be expanded on in sequels, but for the purposes of this book it was out of place.
The ending, while ultimately satisfying, ends off not in the cleanest of ways. 3 out of 4 of the plotlines end in a satisfying way while the 4th is honestly a bit questionable in its execution. I found myself pulled out of the story literally going “wait, what?” as I read through the final chapters whenever it centered around this character. It honestly felt akin to a Deus Ex Machina as there didn’t feel like there was a sufficient enough build up to quite justify the outcome. This was a shame as I felt like it almost cheapened just how well done and satisfying the other three plotlines were.
Thankfully this is offset by almost every other part of the story. The twists and turns are all well executed and the general pace of things is smooth, allowing for an easy appreciation of the events unfolding. All of the side characters are wonderful additions that add to the growth of the main characters as they move towards their objectives. Never was a character introduced where I found myself rolling my eyes. I even found myself caring for some of the side characters as much as I did for the protagonists.
Despite he length of the book, Islington’s word choice and structure makes it very easy to power through chapters and never lose interest. I found myself reading for hours before realizing just how long I’ve been reading. This kind of book looks far more intimidating than it actually is. At no point does the vocabulary ever become so complex that a dictionary is needed. He also doesn’t fall into the trap of fantasy novels where the author describes everything in immense detail. There’s enough detail that the reader has an idea of what they’re reading without being heavily restricted in their imagination of it.
What Writers can learn from this book
James Islington’s book is a story of epic proportions that’s more focused on character development rather than setting and that’s amazing in a fantasy novel. It creates more of an intimate feeling within the world as the reader is far more concerned with the well being of the characters as opposed to the world at large. I felt far more anxious about the fate of Asha, Davian and Wirr than I did about Andarra and that is a great feeling to have. It makes the book far more engaging and kept me reading for hours as opposed to forcing myself to do so.
The idea of a grand overarching world-changing event tends to be the focus of fantasy novels and at no point do I ever think that is a bad thing. But when you’re more focused on the grand scheme of the world ending event, it becomes difficult to care as there needs to be something the reader cares about within that world. In The Shadow of What Was Lost, I found myself coming to care more about the people within the world through the interactions of Davian, Asha and Wirr as they talk to the various side characters about world events, general news and even just simple banter help it to feel like a more realized world.
The deep background lore of the world is deep and it is one of my favorite aspects of fantasy novels. But every time there is a deeper lore to the world, it’s very easy to write as though your reader already knows the background of the world as intimately as you do. I found within this novel that I was thrown back and forth between current events and past events with myself finding far more interest in the former than the latter. I feel a big part of this is how the main characters in the current plotline felt far more human and relatable than the characters depicted in the past. Truth be told I found myself weary of those past characters quickly. I also found that the ending was made weaker for it. It speaks to James Islington’s ability as a writer that, even with this fault, I still found the book enjoyable and one of my favorites.
Go read it!!
Note : I mentioned four protagonists, but only spoke of three. There is another character who is central to the story, however his identity is clouded in mystery. This is a topic I look to write an article on to further discuss the use of characters with a mysterious past.