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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Shadow's Son - Jon Sprunk

I shouldn't like this book as much as I do. I should be writing about how many fantasy cliches it has and how unimaginative the narrative is, but I'm not. Instead I'm going to write a review about how damn fun Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son was to read.

Caim is a knife for hire and he's got the reputation as one of the best. Orphaned at a young age his only companion is a woman named Kit. Unfortunately, he's the only one who can see her. As an assassin, there's few who can match his skill. Along with Kit's extra set of eyes and a strange ability to cloak himself in shadows he has never failed an assignment.

Caim lives in Othir, the heart of what was once known as the Nimean Empire. Twenty years previously (or so) the Church ousted the empire and waged a pogrom against the nobility. When a rush job comes to Caim's attention he is plunged into a conspiracy that will shake the prelacy to its core.

Shadow's Son moves at a breakneck pace. Sprunk tells a straight forward story in less than 300 pages making it a very tight novel. The entire narrative takes place entirely within the span a few days save for a few brief flashbacks from Caim. Succinctness, an underused style in the fantasy genre, affords little time for waxing poetic or excessive world building. Still Sprunk finds plenty of time to hit just the right note in a series of action sequences that include superlative swordplay and Prince of Persia like break ins. These moments are written beautifully reminiscent of James Barclay - another member of Pyr's excellent stable of writers.

When I say the novel lacks excessive world building, I don't mean there isn't any. Quite the opposite. Avoiding information dumps Shadow's Son brings the reader along throughout the story dropping tidbits about the world Caim inhabits when the time is right. By the novels conclusion Sprunk's world building leaves quite bit still in the shadows (pardon the pun). Had an additional hundred pages of character development and setting made its way into the book it would have better for it. Characters died without the emotion that should have been present and the scope of the setting seemed smaller in my mind than Sprunk intended, I'm sure.

Furthermore, Caim as a protagonist felt very static. I imagine that he was intended to become less hard and more do-gooder as the novel wore on, but to me felt that way from the get go. Caim convinced himself that all his victims were bad men who deserved it. He never sees himself as a bad guy, nor does anyone else really. Hello?!?! He's an assassin! I think Sprunk has/had the makings of a much deeper character that he gave up on by making him sympathetic from the first minutes.

All told Shadow's Son is an excellent debut novel that avoids many of the debut pitfalls. It is not ambitious by any means, instead providing a great base for Sprunk to grow. I hope other first time authors can look to this as an example in not only how to get published, but how to ensure it happens again.

Jon Sprunks second novel, Shadow's Lure, is due out Tuesday, June 21.

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