CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 38. . . .May 31, 2013
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.
Andrew Laudicina is an MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, ON; he currently resides in Windsor, ON.
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