Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Light Of Burning Shadows" by Chris Evans

Title: "The Light of Burning Shadows"
Author: Chris Evans
Pages: 384 hard copy
Genre: Epic/Military Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Book Two of the Iron Elves
Publisher: Pocket Books

What you can expect: “The Light of Burning Shadows” manages to keep up with the buzzed up enthusiasm that “A Darkness Forged in Fire” ignited in me as a reader and elevated the world and the bigger story to further, epic scales.

Pros: As the Calahrian Empire’s military force reaches to the far away corners of its territory the reader is introduced to more of the same haunting world building. New ancient forces are introduced and several characters take an interesting turn in their development.

Cons: My curiosity regarding the further enriched world remains unsatisfied and I feel that I have to interrogate the author to extract what I need.

Summary: "They might be doomed, damned, and buggered for all eternity, but that didn't mean they couldn't sparkle like a diamond in the sun and grin like a skull in the moonlight on their way to oblivion."

Musket and cannon, bow and arrow, and magic and diplomacy vie for supremacy once again in this second epic fantasy adventure from acclaimed author Chris Evans. As the human-dominated Calahrian Empire struggles to maintain its hold on power in the face of armed rebellion from within, the Iron Elves' perilous quest to defeat the power-hungry elf witch, the Shadow Monarch, takes on greater urgency.

The Iron Elves, shunned by their own people for bearing the mark of the Shadow Monarch, and desperately wanting to forever erase this shame, became legendary for their prowess on the battlefield as the Calahrian Imperial Army's elite shock troops. But when their commanding officer, Konowa Swift Dragon, murdered the Viceroy of Elfkyna, he was exiled, and these brave elves were banished to a remote desert outpost, doomed and leaderless, their honor in tatters.
Recalled to duty to reform his regiment from the dregs of the Imperial Army, Konowa thwarted the plans of the Shadow Monarch at the Battle of Luuguth Jor -- ensuring that the fabled Red Star, a source of great natural energy, did not fall into Her hands. Now Konowa must cross storm-tossed seas to seek out the lost elves and the prophesied return of another Star somewhere in a desert wasteland roiling with mysterious power, infernos of swirling magic, and legends brought back to life in new and terrible ways. And the fate of every living creature will come to depend on a small band of ragged and desperate soldiers, whose very loyalty to the Empire they have sworn to serve is no longer certain. When death is but a temporary condition, a terrifying question arises: who is the true ally -- and fearsome enemy -- in a growing conflict that threatens all?

Characters: Reading the second installment in this series clarified a few things that puzzled me regarding “A Darkness Forged in Fire” and characterization.

First, this is a series, which is story-driven rather than character-driven and as such the level of characterization is of an acceptable degree, by which I mean that one can overlook the sparse details concerning key figures. Second, Evans uses POV characters as observational tools to showcase the strengths and diverse personal traits of his secondary cast. Ample examples here include Yimt Arkhorn and Rallie Synjyn, who in the sequel more levels than I anticipated and their unmasking so to say is revelaed through the narratives of Alwyn Renwar and Visyna Tekoy. It’s a unique approach that surprised me completely and added a very distinct sub-flavor to the entire story.

This being covered I also enjoyed the development in some of the lead characters and their importance to the story. As “The Light of Burning Shadows” developed Konowa stepped down and the weight of the story was carried off to Alwyn Renwar. As the sole elf in the regiment, marked by the Shadow Monarch and responsible for the curse upon the newest incarnation of Iron Elves, I expected him central to further installments. In terms of using the frost fire, the magic tied to it and communicating with the Darkly Departed, the part of the regiment made from the ghosts of the dead Iron Elves, Alwyn excels with an uncanny ease.

I can only speculate where Evans plans to steer the story to after the cliffhanger ending and who will grow to be the power juggernaut, which is perhaps the best quality, regarding his characters. In critical moments, which, clichéd as it sounds, are of the life and death variety, each figure can surprise with unsuspected qualities, woven organically within the plot.

Story: Apart from growth in scale and acceleration in pace, “The Light of Burning Shadows” does not offer a different breed of story. I find this relaxing as I immediately feel at home with its rhythm and can predict what is to come. Personally I don’t mind the repetition in the story formula as long as the novel doesn’t claim otherwise. Plus what we have is a military story and in times of invasion and war, regiments are assigned a mission. Regiments head towards their designated target, fight the enemy and return victoriously or die. It’s what happens in the real world and as such is ought to happen in this series as well.

Unsurprisingly, it was world building, which won me over completely once again. I couldn’t imagine frost fire being countered, until the ancient power of the desert manifested through the white fire came into play. As a quest destination the desert seems an ageless classic and I instantly recalled all the Arabic fairytales I read as a child as well as the mystifying and adventurous atmosphere of Disney’s Aladdin. Reading about a swallowed in the sands library of power, dragonish beasts breathing fire in the dunes as well as skeletal soldiers subjugated to a mad mage returned the spark to my imagination once again. From a rather enthusiastic standpoint when it comes to world building I’m excited to read that magic branches, although not structured, clarified and explained, spring from the different regions of the land such as the desert in this case or the Shadow Mountain as the case with the frost fire is. From my reading experience power from the land is not uncommon, but not represented in such a rendition.

The Verdict: It’s a must-read. “A Darkness Forged in Fire” hooked me entirely and “The Light of Burning Shadows” only cemented my opinion that the Iron Elves series has been a wise reading decision

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