science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviewsfantasy book reviews Ari Marmell The Conqueror's ShadowThe Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell

CLASSIFICATION: Combining lighthearted humor and graphic violence with both traditional fantasy tropes and trope-breaking twists, The Conqueror’s Shadow is what would happen if you took Dungeons & Dragons and crossed it with the writing styles of David Eddings and Joe Abercrombie.

FORMAT/INFO: The Conqueror’s Shadow is 448 pages long divided over 28 numbered chapters, a Prologue, and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third-person via several major and supporting characters, but the book mostly focuses on Corvis Rebaine. The Conqueror’s Shadow is self-contained, but a sequel is expected to be released next year.

February 23, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Conqueror’s Shadow via Bantam Spectra. Cover art provided by Larry Rostant.

ANALYSIS: In addition to his experience with shared worlds, Ari Marmell also has an extensive history writing for role-playing games, and it shows in his Bantam Spectra debut, The Conqueror’s Shadow, which is rife with such common fantasy conventions as demons, ogres, gnomes, conquering warlords, sorcerers, mercenaries, spellbooks, magic weapons and armor, haunted forests, vampires, et cetera. Normally this kind of a fantasy novel wouldn’t hold my interest for long, but The Conqueror’s Shadow has several things going for it which made reading the book a pleasurable experience.

For one, The Conqueror’s Shadow never takes itself too seriously. Instead, Ari Marmell understands that his book is teeming with fantasy tropes and uses every opportunity to poke fun at them or turn them on their head, like Corvis Rebaine who is depicted as a villain in the prologue, only to be revealed as the novel’s hero. On top of that, The Conqueror’s Shadow is one of the more humorous fantasy novels you’ll find, thanks to the incessant banter of the characters:

“You tell him, you raging font of fury, you!”
“How many times do I have to order you to shut up, Khanda?”
“At least one more, obviously.”

The only problem I had with the humor is that it can be overly lighthearted, especially when compared to how graphic some of the book’s violence can get. After all, I find it a bit disorienting when the author doesn’t use words like ‘shit’ or ‘bastard’, but has no problem with exploding bodies.

Secondly, The Conqueror’s Shadow is a well-written novel. Characters may lack depth, but are extremely likable; prose is crisp; the pacing is terrific; the story is well-executed apart from a couple of missteps; and the author strikes a nice balance of humor, action and epic fantasy. Of course, this isn’t too surprising since Ari Marmell already has extensive experience as a writer, but for his first completely original novel, I thought Marmell nailed it on the head writing-wise.

Thirdly, I loved the interludes that precede every chapter except for the first one. Primarily flashbacks, these short interludes — usually one to three pages long — not only provide insight into the book’s many different characters (Corvis, Tyannon, Davro, Seilloah, Valescienn, Audriss, Jassion, Duke Lorum, Nathaniel Espa, Rheah Vhoune), their relationships with one another, and the motivations behind their actions, but they also offer a refreshing break from the main narrative, and I eagerly looked forward to reading the next one.

Finally, The Conqueror’s Shadow is just a lot of fun to read. Part of it’s because of the lighthearted humor, the likable characters, and the engrossing action, but it also has to do with the novel’s accessibility. The Conqueror’s Shadow, basically, is the kind of novel that is easy to pick up and get started, and even easier to get lost in. Plus, the book has the potential to appeal to a wide range of different readers, including fans of Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy, humorous fantasy, and fantasy with a twist. Best of all, The Conqueror’s Shadow is self-contained. Sure, there’s supposed to be a sequel next year, but The Conqueror’s Shadow possesses a definite beginning, middle, and end, and leaves the reader completely satisfied, which is refreshing in this day and age when the fantasy book market is dominated by multi-volume epics and cliffhanger endings.

Negatively, I already mentioned the characters lacking depth and the couple of missteps with the story’s execution, but there are also issues with a plot that requires little brainpower to follow, world-building that is practically nonexistent, and undeveloped themes. Fortunately, The Conqueror’s Shadow gets away with such shortcomings because of the type of book it is. Too much world-building, characterization or in-depth thematic discussions, and the novel’s level of enjoyment would probably have lessened.

CONCLUSION: In the end, Ari Marmell’s The Conqueror’s Shadow was a major surprise. After all, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy reading The Conqueror’s Shadow, based on the comparison to David Eddings (an author I’ve outgrown), the talk of humor (which I only like in moderation, especially in fantasy), and the author’s background in shared worlds (a genre that I admit holds little appeal to me). But I did enjoy it. Very much. In fact, The Conqueror’s Shadow is one of the most enjoyable fantasy books that I’ve read in a long time, and I sincerely hope Ari Marmell serves up more of the same in his next novel.

Corvis Rebaine — (2010-2011) Publisher: With The Conqueror’s Shadow, Ari Marmell brings a welcome seasoning of wit to the genre, proving that dark fantasy can address the enduring questions of good and evil and still retain a sense of humor. Playful yet intense, sharply sarcastic yet deeply sincere, The Conqueror’s Shadow announces the appearance of a unique talent — and an antihero like no other. They called him the Terror of the East. His past shrouded in mystery, his identity hidden beneath a suit of enchanted black armor and a skull-like helm, Corvis Rebaine carved a bloody path through Imphallion, aided by Davro, a savage ogre, and Seilloah, a witch with a taste for human flesh. No shield or weapon could stop his demon-forged axe. And no magic could match the spells of his demon slave, Khanda. Yet just when ultimate victory was in his grasp, Rebaine faltered. His plans of conquest, born from a desire to see Imphallion governed with firmness and honesty, shattered. Amid the chaos of a collapsing army, Rebaine vanished, taking only a single hostage — the young noblewoman Tyannon — to guarantee his escape. Seventeen years later, Rebaine and Tyannon are married, living in obscurity and raising their children, a daughter and a son. Rebaine has put his past behind him, given up his dreams of conquest. Not even news of Audriss — an upstart warlord following Rebaine’s old path of conquest — can stir the retired warrior to action. Until his daughter is assaulted by Audriss’s goons. Now, to rescue the country he once tried to conquer, Rebaine once more dons the armor of the Terror of the East and seeks out his former allies. But Davro has become a peaceful farmer. Seilloah has no wish to leave her haunted forest home. And Khanda… well, to describe his feelings for his former master as undying hatred would be an understatement. But even if Rebaine can convince his onetime comrades to join him, he faces a greater challenge: Does he dare to reawaken the part of him that gloried in cruelty, blood, and destruction? With the safety of his family at stake, can he dare not to?

fantasy book reviews Ari Marmell The Conqueror's Shadow 2. The Warlord's Legacyfantasy book reviews Ari Marmell The Conqueror's Shadow 2. The Warlord's Legacy


  • Robert Thompson

    ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

    View all posts