Friday, August 12, 2011

Book(s) Reviewed - Shadows's Edge and Beyond the Shadows

I learned a little something as I tried to start writing my review of Shadow's Edge; it's tough to create distinction in your discussion of books in the same storyline by the same author. The Night Angel trilogy (which began with The Way of Shadows) has three books, like most trilogies. But the second and third books are just sequential progressions from the same original story. The writing styles are identical, the characters are mostly already developed, and neither can be good (or bad) without the other also being good (or bad).

As it is, they're both pretty good. The original story focused mostly on the main character, Kylar Stern, and while his story was compelling, I think stories do well when you care about many characters, not just one main guy. In that regard, the second book and particularly the third offered a considerable upgrade. I'll now talk about them individually.

Shadow's Edge

The second book was exactly what you'd expect out of a second book. We learn much, much more about the ancillary characters who seemed interesting but about whom you didn't learn anything in the original book. We also see Kylar develop from his panicked, nervous youth into a formidable (but still pretty emotionally unstable) adult. And maybe most importantly, we have three villainous "entities" (you'll understand if you read it) developed for us who take us through the remainder of the series.

Like most middle issues, the main characters face considerable hardship and sorrow over the course of this book. The author does a good job of making you a little bit incredulous at what happens. Like, "Hmm, I wonder how they're gonna get out of this...OH. They're not." And though some of the deaths are definitely disappointing, they add a degree of unpredictability to the book, and they're all useful for pushing the story forward.

One thing that struck me as strange, though not necessarily in a bad way, was that this book could've been an ending, rather than a transition. The story culminates in a pair of great battles, and a crucial character is slain. But the story leaves enough unresolved that a third book makes good sense.

Speaking of...

Beyond the Shadows

The most satisfying part of the third book was the three...well, I don't know what you'd call them, but they're these three guys who are all incredibly powerful, and only get minimal exposure in the first two books. They remind me of that Simpsons episode where the Italian mob gets in a fight with the Asian mob, and there's the little guy in the white suit who's just standing there until the Simpsons go inside, and Homer's like, "But the little guy hasn't done anything yet!" Well, the little guys end up pretty damn big when this trilogy comes together.

Kylar Stern ends up being marginalized a little, because the grand scheme is so, well, grand. But he plays his part well, and the book becomes more of an orchestra of events, rather than a trio as the first two play out. Without reading the first two, you'd be completely lost and mostly apathetic about the characters, but with the long buildup, the last quarter of the book is a frenzy of excitement, drama, and emotion.

Overall Thoughts

If I had one complaint, or not so much a complaint but a slight drawback, it's that for the first half of the first book, there's almost no mention of "magic" or anything supernatural. Then you get hints and references, but nothing overwhelming. But by the last book, everything is magically charged, half of the main characters are casting spells, and you get the impression that anybody who isn't magically talented is kind of useless. Things don't necessarily play out that way, but it feels weird when anyone "normal" is able to contribute.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with magic. The Harry Potter series is one of my favorites (or rather seven of my favorites), and my movie and video gaming preferences include plenty of spells. I just prefer that magic be more balanced, less powerful, or more costly. It basically ran things after the first book, and that was somewhat frustrating at times.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the series a lot. It wasn't a cathartic experience like Harry Potter or Hunger Games, but it was entertaining, and it helped me get back into a mindset where I want to read books. And what else could you ask for out of a book?

The Last Words: Both books were compelling, and by the third book there were many characters who you really did care about. The second book was a little more depressing, and the third was a little too "epic," but neither to the extent that it wasn't well worth the read.

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