BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nimea and the surrounding nations are threatened by a faceless threat from the north. Standing against this threat are a young Empress, a tortured swordsman, and a boy struggling with fears of cowardice.
PROS: Well-plotted with a steady pace and good character development.
CONS: Drags just a little in the middle.
BOTTOM LINE: Readers expecting the quick-read sword and sorcery will probably be stymied by the bones of epic fantasy Sprunk uses to flesh out the story. For epic fantasy fans looking to expand their libraries with faster-paced work, this is a good place to start.
Shadow’s Lure is the second book in Jon Sprunk’s epic fantasy series. I accidentally read this and the third book (Shadow’s Master) without having read the first one (Shadow’s Son). However, I was able to pick up the story without much issue, but also without feeling like Sprunk was info-dumping on the reader. The two books are each a cohesive adventure within a larger arc, so they read less like a trilogy and more like independent books in a series.
Shadow’s Lure, which opens with a bit of treachery, is the slowest book in the trilogy since it focuses on showing the transition of the characters as they come into their own. Sprunk takes the time to explore and develop his characters and the relationships between them. The result is a depth of character that is often missing in Sword and Sorcery:
- Keegan has gone with his chieftain to witness the peace-meet, where the tribes are meeting to discuss the threat of the Eveskines and their Northmen. Their worries will not last long, however: the Northmen crash the party and wipe out the chieftains in one stroke. Only Keegan escapes, ordered by his chieftain to get away and alert the rest of their people. Feeling a coward, he flees from the carnage.
- Josey has recently lost her father and become the Empress of Nimea. Facing an impoverished, war-torn nation only recently liberated from the tyranny of the Church, surrounded by traitors and ladder-climbers, separated from everyone she knows, the young Empress fights for survival and reconstruction. Her efforts are hampered by the sabotage of the Church, by political upheaval, her own inexperience, a secret, and, if things weren’t rough enough, an unkillable assassin. This assassin can take anyone’s body, and the best soldiers in Nimea can barely wound it. As war threatens from all sides, Josey has to take the reins and become the strong Empress her nation needs.
- Caim is a killer. His parents were murdered in front of his eyes. He knows he is not an acceptable match for Josey. He’s fled Nimea, traveling north on the rumors of mad, dead churchmen and his own dark dreams.
- Kit is not human, but she likes humans, and travels with Caim, helping him when she feels like it. She is the weakest of the characters, but since the real strength of the series lies in the incredible humanness of the characters, it perhaps throws Kit’s lesser development into an unfairly stark contrast.
Shadow’s Master is a powerful ending to the trilogy. Violence and death are common, but not cheap, in these books. The trials and pain of a long, icy-cold journey are clearly portrayed, and the characters suffer mightily. The main characters aren’t the only ones with stakes, and the secondary characters aren’t the only ones to suffer. The action picks up and all of the loose threads start coming together to be tied off handily. The secondary characters are not left two-dimensional in favor of the major players.
The series is dark, very dark, but it is not Grim!Dark, and this is a pleasant change from the latest trend. There is lightness, humor, and genuine emotion, and that is all too rare.
Readers expecting the quick-read sword and sorcery will probably be stymied by the bones of epic fantasy Sprunk uses to flesh out the story. For epic fantasy fans looking to expand their libraries with faster-paced work, this is a good place to start.