Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

A readable and relatively enjoyable classic fantasy novel.
Shadow Chaser book cover

The second instalment in Russian author Alexy Pehov's Chronicles of Siala trilogy includes all the facets of a true high fantasy novel. Proffering a heroic quest with a smattering of grisly battle scenes to break up the various politicking and intrigue along with the requisite hostility between certain races, Shadow Chaser slots comfortably in its genre's sub-category.

But as only the second book to be translated from the Russian's native language, you can't help but feel something got lost in the process. Though it may possess all the right components, it struggles to generate the impact expected of from its classical fantasy set up. The key reason for this is Pehov's bland characterization of his primary players. Where the protagonist, Harold, and his band of compatriots lacked texture and depth in Shadow Prowler, they fail to evolve any further here, making it difficult to invest in their plight and leaving you looking for satisfaction elsewhere. The mischievous goblin Kli-Kli proves the most entertaining of the bunch, but then as the king's jester, you'd hope that would be the case.

That being said, Shadow Chaser is far from a bad read. More evenly structured than the series opener, the novel moves along speedily and includes several moments of pure immersion. Where flashbacks in the first instalment could feel laborious, here they work as powerful narrative sequences that frequently outshine the story's 'current' events (the dream where Harold finds himself trapped in a dungeon is particularly chilling).

The overall impression left by Shadow Chaser is that it's a readable and relatively enjoyable classic fantasy novel that sticks to what it knows and covers little new ground. Indeed some of its most engaging moments (such as the company's trip to the masquerade ball in Ranneng) scream déjà-vu.

However authors shouldn't have to offer new and original ideas every time they put pen to paper (or fingers to keys!) as classic sword and sorcery remains the cornerstone of fantasy literature. The continuing success of the genre has been exemplified through many recently translated works such as Markus Heitz's compelling Dwarves series and Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series. Novels like these have more than demonstrated that what's familiar can still be engaging and effective – unfortunately it's just not the case here.

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