Series: Shadow Saga #2
Publisher: Pyr (June 21, 2011)
Length: 391 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
In Caim of Shadow’s Son, Jon Sprunk created an assassin worthy of standing beside the likes of Brent Weeks’ Kylar Stern of the Night Angel Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson’s Kelsier of Mistborn, and Michael J. Sullivan’s Royce Melborn of the Riyria series. His story quickly becoming a sword and sorcery delight, filled with non-stop action, intense fighting, shadow magic, and thrills galore. And as the fiendish fun of devious plots, personal tragedy, and long denied revenge converged to a satisfying ending, it was good to know that Shadow’s Lure was waiting to continue on with Caim’s story, as he heads off into the Northlands to uncover the truth about his mysterious past and leaves behind his new love Josey, who has been crowned Empress Josephine of the Nimean Empire.
Immediately upon beginning Lure, however, it becomes clear this book is going to be a different type of story. Yes, Caim the master assassin is still wielding his twin blades to devastating effect, but now, the frenetic pacing, which was the dominate trait of Shadow’s Son, is turned down several notches, while the world building and character development take much more prominent roles in the narrative. And when I say “character development,” I should say “characters,” because the narrative seamlessly shifts back and forth between four of them: Caim, Josey, Kit, and a vile villainess from the shadowlands.
Naturally, Caim’s part of the tale involves lots of fighting. His quest leading him into the teeth of a raging civil war in his childhood homeland. New companions and enemies appear in his life, entangling him in an epic battle to determine the fate of the land. One fight leads to another, (Each one amazingly choreographed and depicted by Mr. Sprunk, who seems to have a real knack for writing engaging and sensible combat.), but during the interludes, Caim also finds himself struggling with revelations about his heritage and wondering if he made the right decision in leaving his life in Othir and his growing relationship with Josey.
Meanwhile, back in Othir, Empress Josephine is dealing with troubles of her own, mainly political machinations. She has nobles who view her as nothing but a silly young woman; she has the Church of True Believers plotting to overthrow her; Othir’s populace is primed to revolt at any minute; enemies are invading Nimean from all directions; a mysterious assassin is trying to kill her; she has trusted counselors demanding that she take a husband to reinforce her position; she is pregnant with Caim’s baby; and she has no idea if her lover ever intends to return to her, or if there brief relationship meant nothing to him.
The third member of our evolving love triangle is Kit. This disembodied guardian alternated between nagging Caim in Shadow’s Son and aiding him, but exactly who and what she really is begins to be revealed here. Not only that, she plays a huge role in opening up the world of shadow for a reader’s view. Yet all the while, Kit’s main focus seems to be expressing her true feelings for Caim, as she completely befuddles him with her sudden shift from mocking friend to inflamed suitor.
Rounding out our main characters is Sybelle. This formidable denizen of the Shadow realm is the true power behind the forces seeking to overthrow Caim’s childhood home and swarm into the Nimean Empire. No matter her horrid evilness (because she is a nasty thing) she is far from one dimensional, and Jon Sprunk shows all her amazing characteristics: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Through these four viewpoints, Sprunk weaves a most intoxicating epic fantasy, filled to brimming with plots within plots. All of them whispering the timeless themes of past and future, despair and hope, love and hate, vengeance and justice, good versus evil. It is dark. It is gritty. It is blood soaked. It is sword and sorcery to its core.
But . . . (Yeah, I set you up for the “But” guys.) there were some things about the story which did not work for me and caused it to receive a lower star rating than Shadow’s Son.
The least of these was the sudden infatuation of Kit for Caim, and our heroes confusion about his feelings for her and Josey. To me, the shift from Kit the mocking friend in book one to the enamored suitor in this story was too abrupt. There really wasn’t any hints that this was coming, so when Kit gets all hot and bothered, it was a bit of a weird shock that Caim was so torn about his love for both women, since he’d never seemed to have anything but a friendship with Kit up until this point.
A moderate issue for me was our heroes (Caim and Josey) always having the very best of luck. Josey bumbling from bad situation to worse situation almost constantly, but somehow squeaking by or being saved by the perfectly timed intervention of the absolute correct individual, gradually grew to a distraction and not a relief. And Caim himself – though wounded and unknown in this northern land – managing to attract ally after ally, becoming the leader of a rebellion, and easily learning to use powers it takes other lifetimes to master was a bit hard for me to swallow.
However, the Shadow villains were my biggest disappointment. While Sybelle was fascinating in many ways, she and the other villains never really grew into anything other than obstacles for Caim to overcome. With Mr. Sprunk actually developing their story, I expected some attempt to make them empathetic or, at least, explain their cruelty, but it never really materialized, as they remained Bad Guy #1, Bad Guy #2, et cetera.
Even with my dislikes noted, I’d like to encourage assassin lovers and sword and sorcery aficionados to pick up this very entertaining series. Where Shadow’s Son was an action tour de force, Shadow’s Lure begins the transformation of a simple assassin tale into a grand epic fantasy. Sure, it stumble a little along the way, but it never fails to entertain, keeping your pulse pounding with each swing of Caim’s deadly blades.