Shadow by K.J. Parker is a difficult book to recommend because I highly enjoyed it, but I can also understand why many readers might hate it or be unable to finish it. It’s a unique book.
Shadow opens with the protagonist waking up surrounded by dead bodies and having no memory of who he is. He goes from one odd situation to another trying to make some sort of life for himself while trying to find out who he is and where he fits in the world. This may seem to be a rather cliché plot, but Parker keeps the reader just as clueless as the protagonist is through most of Shadow, so the reader gleans bits and pieces of the world, culture, and custom at the same rate as the protagonist does. Parker does this artfully, with a finesse that adds much-needed layers to the world.
However, this is why readers will either love or hate Shadow.
Most of this book is internal dialogue, observation, and thought sparkled with Parker’s distinctly dry wit. Because of the heavy internal dialogue and the slow rate at which important facts are revealed, many might find Shadow a plodding and tedious read. Because the main character doesn’t know who he is through most of the book, readers may feel disconnected. However, for those who are willing to immerse themselves in the world of an amnesiac, the effort will be well rewarded. It takes roughly half the book for the reader (and character) to learn about many of the conflicts facing the world and even then it’s obvious that you are only getting a fraction of the full story, which will probably be revealed in further books of the series.
We are given hints about the character’s identity and place in the larger world through fragmented dreams and small clues from other characters. While this was an essential part of keeping the reader hooked to the story, I got somewhat tired of the conveniently broken off clues and the technique, at times, feel contrived.
Shadow is subtle, deep, and slow to develop. It’s an incredible account of self-discovery and it poses important questions and prompts deep thoughts. While I was skeptical about a novel in which there is almost no history or back-story, I ended up enjoying Shadow quite a bit. For readers who are just being introduced to K.J. Parker, Shadow may not be the best place to start. But readers who know they enjoy Parker’s subtlety, sarcasm and depth will find Shadow a worthy, thought-provoking addition to their book shelves.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.