Of Shadow & Sea (The Elder Empire: First Shadow)
This is really just a continuation of the previous review. Of Shadow & Sea is the sister novel to of Sea & Shadow and it’s very obvious that Will Wight shines much brighter when he’s in the dark. Just like in the Traveler’s Gate trilogy, the dark characters in this novel are much more interesting. Calder Marten has his moments as the lovable rogue but you never see the complexity experienced by those that grow up in Shadow. The back stories are more interesting, the subplots are more engrossing and the interplay between the characters seems more genuine and feels like there is more at stake for each of them.
Granted, this may all be because I was already introduced to the world by the sister novel and so didn’t have to multitask between understanding new concepts while gradually getting to know the characters. But I don’t think that’s it. I think that Wight likes these characters more because they are counter culture and the life of an assassin clearly floats his boat more than, well, an intrepid seaman.
Our main character in the book is Shera. Shera never had an easy life. We are introduced to her as a young street thug. On the streets, she is the ultimate survivor in that ruthless killing doesn’t seem to phase her one bit. I spent much of the novel wondering if her complete lack of empathy was a survival mechanism or some form of autism or flat out psychopathy. One of her less endearing characteristics is that she can and will fall asleep at any opportunity. I found this a little annoying at first but as the book evolved, I believe that this constant semi-narcolepsy was really her escape mechanism.
While the author does not dive too deeply in to the messed up psychology of a trained killer, he also doesn’t shy away from it. We often find ourselves right there with Shera as she is asking herself ‘why don’t I feel bad about doing these terrible things?’. These are the right questions, the hard questions that bring about a true connection with the reader. None of these emotions are resolved in the first book and near the end there is obvious foreshadowing that the complexity of these interactions is just going to grow. That’s a good thing.
Shera’s supporting cast is much better developed than Calder’s. I care much more about what happens to Meia and Lucan than I ever did about Calder’s crew. Calder’s crew were more photographic archetypes, who looked like they had depth at a distance but we never got the pleasure to cross the velvet line and look at em up close to see the cracks and blemishes that make art all the more interesting. Meia and Lucan were also deeply flawed characters and I mean that in the most complementary way. Flaws open the door for conflict and all good books need conflict to keep you engaged. That’s part of the reason why the interplay between this threesome is interesting and natural.
I also got the pleasure of knowing what was going to happen at the end of the novel but experiencing it from a different viewpoint. This is risky because if the reader knows what is going to happen at the end, you may lose them early. The risk pays off though because you get to understand how perspective makes all the difference in any story. Whether in real life or fiction, perspective makes the same story feel totally new.
Looking forward to the next books.