Book Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost – James Islington

My rating: 5 dragons

Overview

WOW. WOW. WOW.

This book is amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing!!!

When I first started reading this (as a buddy read, which made it all the more enjoyable), I had planned to read the first five chapters. I practically inhaled them, and there was no way I was going to stop there. I carried on reading until literally it got so late that I would not wake up for work if I didn’t go to bed there and then. I was so annoyed that I had to sleep and I couldn’t continue with this incredible story!

Our main protagonist, Davian, instantly clicked with me. He’s an underdog, he’s rushing towards a pretty much life or death deadline with no idea how he’ll pass the test expected of him (despite him getting on well with his peers and elders, there’s nothing they can do to help if he fails), and I don’t know… I just really got on with him. I could understand his struggle (not that I’ve ever attended a school for the Gifted, goddammit) and the very real way in which he approached problems and challenges and his sense of right and wrong. Really, really liked Dav.

The next two main characters we’re introduced to are his friends in this school – we have Wirr, his best friend, and Ashalia, who he harbours feelings for. At this point you might yawn and think, “been there, read this, I know what to expect.” Let me stop you right there. Judge a book on its own merit. These characters go off in ways you wouldn’t expect. Their arcs and growth are incredible. It’s no spoiler to say they’re all split up not too far into things, and none of them disappear into the background.

Each character meets various people, travels to various places, and encounters the layers of world-building and politicking that you wouldn’t expect for a “magic school” start. It’s amazing. Dav was my favourite throughout, and Wirr had some incredible twists to his development, but I probably enjoyed Asha’s storyline the most. She is not going to sit by the side waiting for her romantic interest to turn up. She does things. She learns. She grows. She goes through incredible pain. In fact, they all do.

I ADORE character-driven stories. I can forego a boring plot or confusing settings as long as the characters have strength and depth to carry everything across. The Shadow of What Was Lost delivers on that. And I haven’t even mentioned Caeden yet!

Caeden is the fourth main POV – an older character who is suffering from the terrifying affects of amnesia. He wakes up in a forest, covered in blood, with no recollection of who he is, where he is, or how he came to be there. What’s worse, he’s accused of more than murder – the butchering of an entire village in cold blood. He can’t remember whether it even happened, much less whether he’s responsible. So begins his story as his and Dav’s paths merge and grow.

When you throw time-travel into the mix, all manner of magic, powerful Vessels, an army of the Blind in black, nigh-impervious armour, awesome monsters, and a distant boundary threatening to fall and unleash all manner of evilness, well… you can see how incredible this novel is.

Things I loved

The characters. I adored them. There are many double-crossings and lies and blurred lines in terms of who is on whose side. It’s reasonably dense but not stupid complicated (though I still would have benefitted from keeping notes while I read it), but you certainly know enough to be suitably wowed by the reveals and twists as they come along.

I can’t remember a book that threw up more questions than it answered! I know this is part of a trilogy, so it’s never going to answer everything all nice and neatly and finish everything off with a pretty bow. But this… I NEED to read the next one. NEED. Not want!!! It has had a profound impact on me and I loved every minute of reading this.

It’s not a fast-paced book per se, but it doesn’t drag that much (aside from perhaps four or five chapters a little before the middle), but it is an easy read. I never found myself struggling (even with all the apostrophes) and could blitz through several chapters on each read through. The writing is crisp and clear with a fair amount of humour thrown in for good measure. Really an excellent read!

Things I didn’t like

I never understood the whole, “this book is the next such-and-such,” conversations because that will always create unrealistic expectations and standards. What’s wrong with simply judging a book on its own merit? I worry that people who would love this have been turned away by others saying “it’s been called X but it’s not.” Which I don’t think is very fair.

Perhaps this is more on me for not having a notebook, but when I picked this book up after a short break, I did find myself wondering who X or Y was. It’d be awesome to have a glossary, or perhaps I just ought to pay more attentions next time?! 😀

There was a little bit of insta-love – nothing serious, but it was clear that a few characters seemed to develop sudden crushes, which irked me a bit. I’ve never been a fan of romance, though, so it’s probably another preference thing.

Final thoughts

When I started the book, I was utterly gripped to the point that sleep, work, eating, and you know, all manner of responsibilities were annoyances. When I finished the book, I screamed, “oh my god no way!!!” and immediately wanted to re-read it, while also immediately wanting to read the sequel.

If the sequel (which, thankfully, I can purchase now) ends on anything like a cliff hanger / major plot twist as this one did… I don’t know. I think I’ll go into some sort of withdrawal.

Also, I want to add, the cover is simply gorgeous!! I cannot recommend this highly enough!

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