Sunday, April 24, 2011

In the Shadow of Swords

Val Gunn
Errant Press, 2010
Size: Average (my copy has 357 pages)
Theme: Medieval fantasy
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Ciris Sarn
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any fantasy reader: YES

This is the story of Ciris Sarn, one of the most reputable assassins in the world, forced to do the bidding of the ruling Sultan and his advisors. Separated from his father at an early age, and having lost his mother at birth, he was bound to the Sultan by a curse, one not easily broken. Trained in the dark skills by Fajeer Dassai, he has become a puppet in Dassai’s schemings. But Sarn has plans to get rid of the curse and begin his life anew.

Simultaneously, a plot brews involving the highest ranked officers and the most influential people in the realm. The Sultan’s sons have plans of their own regarding succession. But some of their actions have caused the books of Promise to turn up, which threaten to change everything that everyone believes about the world around them. And many will go to extreme measures to acquire them. It is a tale of conspiracy, treachery, and revenge, with many adrenaline-filled scenes. 

We mainly follow Ciris Sarn as a marked man with a price on his head, hunted by Dassai’s men and many others. Among those after him is Marin Altair, whose husband was one of Sarn’s most recent victims. Many other characters become involved in the plot, which delivers a fast-paced and complex narrative. There is plenty of action, with deceit and murder at every corner. There are arcane spells, including raising dead spirits and possession, and mysterious creatures, such as the powerful efreets, to the enjoyment of fantasy fans. The plot opens up several threads along the book, and most are closed in the final chapters. Just a few are left open to entice the reader for the next book.

Although most of my reviews tend to be science-fiction, I like to vary with an occasional fantasy novel. This story is easy to read and there is good character development, with different layers being shown for each of them. The main character is convincing and interesting to follow. Although I would have liked to hear a little bit more about Sarn’s story, I’m sure that will come in subsequent novels in this series. I very much enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to all fantasy fans.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

Towards the end of the book, Marin is torn in her feelings towards Sarn; if on the one hand, she wants to kill him for having slain her husband, on the other hand she starts feeling pity for how his upbringing has conditioned his actions. In the end, Sarn is able to kill Dassai and survive, while Marin is travelling back to Cievv, and considering how to get back to something resembling a normal life. 

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