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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk

Shadow’s Son – Jon Sprunk (Published 2010)
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Dark, with an implied Epic hovering beneath the surface
Completed: 3 November 2010

Shadow’s Son is the debut novel from American writer Jon Sprunk. On the surface it’s a generic action fantasy starring an assassin. There are many tropes that you’ve probably seen before and seen done better before, but Shadow’s Son works just fine if you’re after a (very) quick, enjoyable read. It’s solid entertainment with no pretensions.

Caim is a freelance assassin. After a job goes very wrong, Caim realises he's been set up and the only one he can turn to for an explanation is the daughter of his target, Josie. Of course, the men responsible for setting Caim up want to get their hands on her too.

Sprunk sets his action in a fairly standard early medieval world, which looks great in the dark but lacks a bit in the harsh light of day. Similarly, it feels spot on when the story is in motion, but its simplicities and clichés are exposed when the action slows down.

The good news on that score is that Sprunk keeps the action coming. It is undoubtedly his strength, and it’s enough to hang his hat on. Fight scenes are typically enthralling and the reader can genuinely feel the danger. Language that feels overwrought in certain passages sharpens in these sections. The plot is fast paced and as a result the book is surprisingly short for a Fantasy novel. Sprunk doesn’t feel the need to tell us about Caim’s years of harsh training, which is an overdone staple of similar books. There are also some enjoyable twists that keep things interesting.

Behind the action are some fairly basic characters whose development is predictable (and told to the reader through unrealistic introspection). Josie, the resident damsel in distress, particularly experiences some unbelievably rapid growth. Caim is surprisingly relatable for an assassin – Sprunk wisely employs the device of allowing Caim to choose who he kills (only bad people)! The mysterious power he holds over shadows is intriguing enough, but the only real surprise is Kit, Caim’s ghostly friend who nobody else can see yet seems very real. The bad guys don’t fare much better, not even Ral and Markus who could have provided some very personal conflict, but instead tread the line of caricature.

All told I can see myself reading the sequel on a lazy afternoon. It’s not like it demands a great investment of time or mental energy. Shadow’s Son receives 2.5 stars. It is a competent and entertaining story of a quality that many people would be very happy to match in their debut effort.

Read it – for some light Dark Fantasy entertainment, especially if you like you some ninja assassins!
Don’t read it – if you value originality above all else, there isn’t much to see here

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