Of Myth and Shadow by Matthew S. Cox

Front cover of Of Myth and Shadow by Matthew S. CoxCox combines accessible characters and sweeping plots to create epic fantasy that has breadth and depth without feeling dense.

The Kingdom of Aegaan has been at peace for decades. However, a growing number of towns and villages along one border report attacks by small bands of elves. For Anrael, a half-elf, this is just one more reason for people to hate him. For Kylie, a forest elf on the verge of adulthood, it is a source of confusion. For Thaelwyn, a virtuous knight of the king, it is a question to be answered without delay. For the bandit king Jhelan and L’an Thal’Sara, his dark elf bedmate, it is an irrelevance. And for Serelin, a nine-year-old orphan girl with untrained magical talent, it is nothing compared to the probable intentions of the cult who have kidnapped her.

Cox skilfully integrates all the elements of epic fantasy, several unconnected plot threads, multiple large-scale threats, ancient magics, political intrigue, into a single narrative. As such, this novel is likely to appeal greatly to fans of the subgenre.

His use of epic fantasy tropes is balanced between comforting familiarity and freshness. This can be seen in his use of elves: like many fantasy worlds, his has several types of elves: forest-dwelling, ancient-city-dwelling, and evil. However, both the culture and metaphysics of each elven race displays new nuances and aspects within the framework of classic elf typology, creating a sense of unique non-human beings without losing accessibility.

The balance between tense action, devious politics, and dramatic supernatural displays is similarly well balanced. Each flavour of challenge or solution has the edge over others at certain points but as the various character’s threads intertwine the advantage their broader skill base provides is countered by an equally strong opposition from one or more flavours: for example, killing someone the characters “know” is a criminal is easy enough, but without proof that will stand up in court it is both illegal and unethical. This allows Cox to deploy the larger scale powers and challenges that typify the subgenre without becoming trapped in an escalating cycle.

Where Cox does potentially deviate noticeably from the usual epic fantasy format is in the areas from the point-of-view of Serelin. As fans of Cox’s other work might expect, his portrayal of the pre-teen mind is both plausible and engaging, displaying a perspective that is childlike without being childish and is leavened but not obscured by the traumas of a disadvantaged childhood. However, this very facility in representing the pre-teen internal experience also makes these scenes noticeably different in tone from that of the usual epic fantasy protagonist. Thus, some readers who favour grimy darkness might find the innocence of the humour dissonant compared to the more cynical or bawdy humour that is common in the subgenre.

Each of the protagonists is carefully crafted, displaying a core competence and morality—albeit obscured in some cases—that makes their narrative destinations utterly plausible yet also being tangled in conflicting emotions, goals, and prejudices that complicate both their attempts to resolve their issues and interact with each other.

While the size of supporting cast necessarily prevents them from displaying the same level of disparate qualities, Cox injects hints of individualism into even characters who appear for only a single paragraph.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking epic fantasy that is driven by character and sweeping plot.

I received a free copy from the author with no request to review.

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