________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 38. . . .May 31, 2013

cover

The Oathbreaker's Shadow.

Amy McCulloch.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2013.
416 pp., hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 978-0-385-67824-7.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Andrew Laudicina.

***½/4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.

   

excerpt:

Raim crept into the royal yurt behind Khareh. They had been friends for so long that no one took any notice of the fact that he was there. They zigzagged around members of the royal entourage lounging on pillows on the ground until they reached where Altan was standing.

Raim felt the sudden rush of cold, like an icy winter draught blowing under the felt of an unsealed yurt. It wrapped around him and made him shiver, a deep-seated shake that started in his neck and travelled all the way down his spine. But it was the height of summer, and he wasn't shivering from cold: he was shuddering in disgust.

Amidst the rich golden ornaments, the lush silks and the sweet-smelling incense, Raim's stomach was turning, boiling over with nausea that caused sweat to drip down his spine and the bile in his stomach to rise.

He wasn't alone. All around him, people were looking pale and physically shying away from the far corner of the room. Not Khareh, though. If he was feeling any discomfort he wasn't going to be the one to show it. Raim tried to emulate his friend's iron-hard will, and attempted to compose his features.

There could only be one source: a shadow. And that shadow belonged to a frail, cowering old man in a tatty tunic that must have been white at some point, although now it was stained red with dust.

 

 

Epic fantasy moves to the East, and into the great expanse of shifting desert sands and secret mountain cities, in Amy McCulloch's wonderfully imagined debut novel, The Oathbreaker's Shadow.

     For 15-year-old Raim, nothing is more important than becoming a member of the Yun, an elite class of warriors sworn to the King of Darhan. Having recently completed his training towards this end, Raim is all but guaranteed acceptance into the guard. But on the eve that this is to happen, the knot around his wrist, signifying a forgotten promise he made in his adolescence, unexpectedly bursts into flames branding him an oathbreaker and subsequently an outlaw among his people. Fortunately for Raim, he has yet to produce a shadow, (a spirit which haunts all oathbreakers until the end of their days) and can call among his closest friends two of the most important people in Darhanian society Khareh, the heir apparent to the throne to whom he has pledged an oath of allegiance, and Mhara, Raim's life-long mentor and leader of the Yun. However, when these two allies offer conflicting advice, Raim is placed in a difficult situation. With his own life at stake, in a society where the consequence of betrayal can mean death, who to trust is of the outmost importance. The one thing he is certain of is that he cannot stay. His only real option is to flee to the desert hideaway city of Lazar, and from there, he will attempt to finally understand the mysterious origins of the knot he has carried all his life and hopefully reverse the curse upon him.

      This highly original premise and the book's exotic setting allow for an engaging and a widely entertaining story which even the most avid of adventure-fantasy purists, despite the absence of elves, castles, and dragons, will appreciate. And besides, the true strength of The Oathbreaker's Shadow lies not specifically in the swinging of swords and the casting of magic (although, there is plenty of that, and it is used to great effect) but in its development and delivery of plot. Tightly paced, although the opening chapters are perhaps burdened a bit too heavily with world building duties, the narrative offers readers an intriguing and thought-provoking tale about the power (and consequences) of promises both kept and broken. At its heart, however, is an in-depth look into the good and evil that exists in all people which can push even the closest of friends to hurt and hate each other.

      Characterization is similarly strong, especially among the main protagonists. Raim's character, in particular, experiences tremendous growth, maturing from a girl-shy adolescent operating as his best friend's beck and call to a self-assured individual who is willing to stand up for what is right in the defense of those he holds dear. The secondary cast, in comparison, measures somewhat one-dimensional, but are appropriately paralleled against proper foils. Likewise, in what is a pleasant change of pace for the genre, female characters are written in positions of power and are often seen wielding swords among the best of them. Mhara fits this description perfectly but is, perhaps, too old for the book's intended audience to appreciate; Wadi, on the other hand, a desert nomad whom Raim encounters while en route to Lazar, is courageous, confident, and intelligent, the perfect complement to Raim, both mentally and physically.

      In what has become a crowded field, The Oathbreaker's Shadow nicely positions itself apart from others within the genre. Perhaps best suited to the tastes and sensibilities of younger readers, Raim's story, however, can be enjoyed (regardless of age) by all possessing an affinity for high adventure-fantasy; although, some readers may take issue with the book's lack of a conclusive ending, preferring instead to see a climax in which the antagonist actually suffers a measureable defeat. Nonetheless, the conclusion is satisfying, and it works well to build suspense and speculation for when the second (and final) part of this planned duology is delivered.

 

Highly Recommended.

Andrew Laudicina is an MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON; he currently resides in Windsor, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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