BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Caim continues his journey north to find his heritage and legacy, even as the young Empress he left behind has her reign tested.
PROS: Strong finish to the trilogy; more interesting worldbuilding; further emergence of characters.
CONS: Some hangovers from the second book clutter up narrative.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good, if not spectacular, end to what will hopefully be not the last book series from Sprunk.
Shadow’s Master is the third and presumably final novel in the Shadow’s Son Trilogy from Jon Sprunk, following Shadow’s Son and Shadow’s Lure. In the world of Nimea, Caim has managed to depose a local potentate, bury his father’s sword, and head further north to find the true source of his heritage. The Empress he has left behind faces the greatest challenge yet to her rule, and Kit the faerie has a fateful decision to make that could change the lives of all three of them forever…if it doesn’t get one or more of them killed first.
The strengths of Shadow’s Master are in line with the previous two novels; Sword and Sorcery action of a high order. Caim’s powers have grown, but so have the threats he is facing. The action is described very well, and the set pieces are among the strongest things in the book. It is illuminating to compare the Caim in chapter one of Shadow’s Son to the Caim we meet here. He has developed well, not only in terms of powers, but in his goals, outlook and personal arc. He is no longer the relatively straightforward assassin-for-hire we met before, and that is a good thing.
The description and evocation of the world is well done, ranging from the northern cold world that Caim visits, to the marcher lords that Josey deals with in the scene of her greatest test as Empress. Like the previous two novels, the point of view shifts between Caim, Josey, Kit, and also a view into the “camp of the enemy.” These latter scenes focusing on the character of Balaam were particularly interesting, shedding light on the world Caim is infiltrating. The idea that POV fixes everything made what might have been a faceless enemy into a real civilization with real people, problems, and issues. I liked the complexity here, especially with regards to the goals of the villain, making them understandable and even somewhat sympathetic.
The novel is not without some significant flaws that detracted noticeably from my enjoyment of it. Some of the weaknesses of the second novel do crop up here in the third. Josey’s thread is still not as strong as Caim’s. She doesn’t feel as well realized as a character and some of the manipulation of time and place used in regards to Caim and Josey’s storylines just doesn’t work. Although a choice is presented in the novel, the eventual outcome was never in doubt. In addition, while Caim’s story does have a good stopping point, Josey’s story feels far less complete. The payoff in her story wasn’t there. Some inherited characters from the second novel really don’t contribute effectively to the third, making it difficult to justify why they remained in the narrative or in the action as long as they did. What seemed to be a character growth arc for Caim, making him a leader of these men, doesn’t quite pay off.
Overall, Shadow’s Master nearly hits the highs of the previous two volumes, although I found it to be a hair of a letdown. As usual for series, you need to start with the first book and work your way through to the third. If you have any interest in sword and sorcery, you owe it to yourself to check out Sprunk’s work, starting with Shadow’s Son. Get to know Caim. You will be glad you did. I will be extremely interested in seeing what this new talent in sword and sorcery fantasy comes up with next.