Genre: Fantasy — Grimdark
Series: Heart of the World #2
Publisher: Tor Books (July 11, 2011)
Author Information: Website
Length: 416 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Grittier. More complex. More engaging. Stands a Shadow is a book which does not succumb to the sophomore book slump but rises above its predecessor, making a reader crave more. Col Buchanan crafting a mesmerizing sequel to Farlander, one which grips a reader from the first page and never lets go, as an epic tale of revenge, war, and survival plays out across the pages. Or, to put it simply, this is a damn good book!
Picking up directly after book one, the Roshun assassin Ash is bent on revenge against the Holy Matriarch of the Empire of Mann after her treatment of his apprentice Nico. This overwhelming desire going against all Ash’s beliefs, repudiating everything his order stands for. But Ash is beyond caring, determined to follow after his chosen target as she heads across the sea at the head of a massive invasion fleet, bound for the city of Bar-Khos, which has been besieged by the Mannians for ten long years.
Caught up in the brutal struggle and quiet mission of vengeance are several other characters who find themselves struggling to deal with their own problems and fighting to find a way to survive the traumas of war. Foremost of these is Che, a trained agent of the Mannians (and wayward Roshun assassin), who begins to waver in his loyalty to Mann and watches as his beliefs begin to crumble under self inspection. Opposite Che in Bar-Khos is Bahn, a war-weary soldier, who finds himself loosing his nerve, desperately wishing to flee the looming threat of annihilation with his family. And, lastly, there is a refugee-turned-prostitute named Curl, who joins the Khosian army, filled with the need to stop the Mannians from destroying her new home as they did her former one.
While the action and adventure are front-and-center here and monopolize the pages, this story is truly built upon the struggles of one man: Ash. The world-weary assassin with his mysterious, haunted past looming over everything. His personal quest for vengeance for his apprentice (and a need to redeem himself from past failures) is so real, so compelling that it carries the narrative. Only the struggles of Che coming anywhere close to rising to Ash’s level. All of which means that Stands a Shadow only works if you become deeply engaged in Ash’s journey.
The only criticism I have of this book is the failure of the other supporting, point-of-view characters — outside of Che — to carry their portions of the narrative. Certainly, everyone begins with loads of potential and have brief moments of brilliance, but overall, their story arcs are fairly forgettable. Especially disappointing to me was Bahn and Curl, who start off with a complex, intertwined plot which gradually ends in a proverbial dead-end and is basically dropped by the author all together without any satisfactory resolution.
Well written, tension filled, and driven by a compelling character in Ash, Stands a Shadow raises the Heart of the World series to new heights, ever facet of this epic saga improved immensely over its predecessor, Farlander. Certainly, Ash and Che’s story lines are the highlights of the book, but the world building and tale of a brutal war adds to the richness of the narrative, making this novel and series one of my favorite finds in 2017.