Shadeborn by Garrett Robinson

Shadeborn by Garrett RobinsonExpanding the skilled mix of world-building and character struggle to an international scale, Robinson brings the epic threats hinted at in previous volumes into the light.

This novel is the fourth volume in the Nightblade series. This review doesn’t reveal everything, but my life is too short to weave a path around any and all spoilers.

Loren’s pride at never having killed shattered by news of her father’s death, she spends each day moping around the inn. Her companions still follow her lead, but each day become more restless; and, with his debt to Jordel the only thing holding back his addiction, Xain is the most impatient of all. If Underrealm is to survive, Loren must act; but how can she resist the Shades if she can’t escape her own darkness?

While this book is both a coherent narrative and a continuation of previous volumes, it is also a book of two parts: Loren’s battle against depression and a race to complete Jordel’s mission.

As befits the collapse of a character’s core belief, Robinson does not skimp on the first part. Using the breadth of cast to good effect, he provides multiple small examples of Loren withdrawing from the world, turning away advice, and refusing to commit to even the simplest of plans. However, he also provides perspectives from experienced warriors to counterbalance the calls for action. This legitimization of Loren’s trauma undercuts the sense that she is being self-indulgent, challenging the reader’s wish that she buck up and get on with it.

Unfortunately – while Loren’s internal struggle is both powerful and a plausible exploration of the stress that is often ignored in fantasy – this withdrawal from the world is also a withdrawal from immediate consequence. As such, the reader is presented with no tangible threats to support a sense of urgency. While this will be less of an issue for readers who are reading the novel shortly after its predecessor, those coming to it after a break might find the opening a touch slow.

Once Loren starts to act, the book returns to the engaging balance of scope and close-detail that Robinson deploys in previous volumes. Harried by Shades, if anything, more ruthless than those encountered in the mountains and lacking Jordel’s knowledge of who can be trusted, Loren and her companions know that they need to do more than hide but lack the opportunity to stop and plan.

As in previous volumes, much of their success comes from Loren’s competence under pressure. Cast on a grander stage than before, this might divide readers: those who found her self-doubt charming will revel in a new perspective on the simple farm-hand becoming a hero; those who found some of the previous events less than plausible might feel she is a little too exceptional.

Where previous volumes traced Loren’s realisation that real life isn’t like the tales of bards and her struggle with letting others kill to achieve her goals, this one deals with one of the hardest questions of adulthood: how do you carry on when it was your fault things went wrong? And her guilt over her father’s death is only the first thorn. Each person killed by the Shades, each narrow escape from pursuers, is another reason for her to hate herself for spending so long moping.

The supporting cast have similarly developed. Both Xain and Annis are sought for themselves, so must decide whether their desire to follow their beliefs is worth risking the safety of their companions; even Gem, having faced the difference between his bravado and his skill, does not escape the weight of maturity.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers who enjoyed the previous volumes.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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