Will Wight gives us a fantastic start to his Elder Empire series in Of Shadow and Sea. This first book represents one of the more unique ways to write a fantasy series. Of Shadow and Sea covers the same events as Wight’s Of Sea and Shadow. But the protagonists in this book are the antagonists in that one, and vice-versa. Even knowing that makes for an interesting and engaging story, and I imagine reading both of the books will provide varying perspectives on all the characters in a truly unique way. But apart from the concept and unique structure of the story, this novel shines all on its own.
There is so much to praise in this start to the Elder Empire series it’s difficult to know exactly where to start. I suppose the first element of the story to jump out at me was the world building. This is one of Wight’s most unique worlds - and that’s saying something coming from an author who typically crafts deep and engaging settings for his stories. The Elders and Elderspawn are interesting and mysterious, and Wight offers details here and there about their nature and origins that are truly tantalizing. There is an island that features in the plot that is entirely covered in skin. As in… not dirt, but skin. It’s creepy and weird and so unique. What’s most important to me, however, is the way the world building draws you into the story. The unique setting is used to great effect in conveying the tale Wight wants to tell and it ends up being more than simply a fun backdrop.
The magic system that exists in this world is another favorite element for me. There are so many layers to the system that are interrelated. We have Soulbound, able to perform certain magics based on their vessel. This is cool on its own, but then there are Readers, individuals able to read an object’s history, understand the object, and inject more intent into it - and do other impressive things to boot. To say more might be spoilery, but the various functions interrelate and make for an exquisitely complex magic system that Wight manages to communicate without ever resorting to paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition. Of course, beyond this world building are the characters. Each of the characters are interesting and feel real and authentic. It’s also fascinating to realize, as you’re reading, that your story’s heroes are another story’s villains, and that villain who you perceive as self-serving is some else’s hero. It’s very meta, and Wight is undoubtedly making a statement about perspective that’s equal parts fun and profound.
There were a couple small things that didn’t connect with me. I sometimes found the characters, both the heroes and the villains, to lack emotional connection for me. Frankly, this might be because I was thinking a little too much about them, rather than just feeling with them. But there were moments when I felt like I should have felt more emotion for them, and I just didn’t. Pacing was another area where things felt a little uneven for me. It wasn’t bad, or slow, but once or twice in the novel I felt like maybe the pacing was just slightly off. It’s possible this is a result of needing the story to line up and maintain adequate pacing across two entirely separate novels.
Of Shadow and Sea is a unique novel in concept, in execution, and in terms of setting. It’s wonderfully engaging, a ton of fun to read, and plays with perspective and who the good guys are in absolutely fascinating ways. A wonderful start to a series, this is one worth grabbing at your next opportunity.
Review by Calvin Park
8.8/10 from 1 reviews
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