Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling
Lately, whenever I pick up a new book by a favorite author and read the back of it, I get this feeling of dread. I don’t know what it is, but my favorites are throwing out some really thin-sounding plots. Lynn Flewelling has been a favorite for years, though, since I first began reading her Nightrunner series, so I held out hope for Shadows Return.
So Alec and Seregil are on a new mission when they’re captured and sold into slavery. Seregil’s time is spent hoping Alec is alive. Alec’s is spent in the hands of Yhakobin, an alchemist who has a special purpose for the mixed blood running through Alec’s veins. It sounds thin and it is thin, as the book encompasses no more than this. And it’s certainly interesting, and none of it reads slow, even though it should.
The last hundred and fifty or so pages are also really good. I mean, utterly fantastic, in the way I’ve come to expect from Flewelling — exciting and full of tension. There’s some interesting twists (including one that I did find to be rather predictable), and the snippets of Thero and Micum are fun. Micum is his usual awesome self, but no one will be terribly surprised by this.
Unfortunately, while nothing was bad per se, nothing was quite up to spec, either. It’s hard to explain, since a lot of it comes down to a feeling. Something just didn’t feel right… until that last hundred and fifty or so pages. That’s when that Nightrunner feeling came back and I was truly enjoying myself.
I would have been glad to move away from necromancy for a change, as well, but I’m with Alec and Seregil here; alchemy looks the same as necromancy to me, too. What happens should be more grotesque and horrifying than it actually ever feels…perhaps the Tamir Triad has spoiled me, or perhaps because Alec and Seregil were very much reduced to the sum of their character traits, I couldn’t connect with it as much as I wanted to. And Plenimar! For crying out loud, Flewelling, enough with the black as black gets, okay? I was hoping for a new angle on Plenimar, a view of a country full of people who were hardened due to a harsh land, but not actually evil. But I didn’t get that… not even close.
There were little things too, lots of little mistakes that can all add up. Most of them were simple things, like words that used to be italicized no longer being italicized. Some of them were a bit more worrisome; one of the royal siblings is called Ariani three times in one paragraph, which confused me, since I didn’t remember a royal sibling of that name. A few pages later it’s corrected to Arathain, which sounded right, but yikes. Worse, though, is the mention of Alec’s father dying in Asengai’s dungeon (not a spoiler, you’ll learn about Alec’s father dying very quickly in the first book, and you should definitely read the first ones before reading this one). But that never happened. It was never before mentioned, because that’s NOT how Alec’s father died. That was surprisingly sloppy.
I waffled a bit over the score on this one, because I did enjoy it. And most people who have been a fan of Flewelling’s work will at the least enjoy it. But even with the exciting ending, it just isn’t high enough quality. I can only hope that the next one is better.
Nightrunner — (1996-2013) Publisher: When young Alec of Kerry is taken prisoner for a crime he didn’t commit, he is certain that his life is at an end. But one thing he never expected was his cellmate. Spy, rogue, thief, and noble, Seregil of Rhiminee is many things–none of them predictable. And when he offers to take on Alec as his apprentice, things may never be the same for either of them. Soon Alec is traveling roads he never knew existed, toward a war he never suspected was brewing. Before long he and Seregil are embroiled in a sinister plot that runs deeper than either can imagine, and that may cost them far more than their lives if they fail. But fortune is as unpredictable as Alec’s new mentor, and this time there just might be… Luck in the Shadows.
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