The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott
The Pilgrims and Shadow by Will Elliott are the first two books of the PENDULUM TRILOGY. I read The Pilgrims while on a long trip last year, and so never wrote up a review (camping and hiking not being conducive to such activity). Which means this dual review will focus heavily detail-wise on Shadow while making reference to the first book based on some fuzzy recollection, some quick skimming to refresh, and an old hand-scrawled note or two in the margin I may or may not have deciphered correctly.
The Pilgrims introduces us to Eric Albright, and young and not-particularly-upcoming journalist, and Stuart Casey (“Case”), a homeless alcoholic, who in short order find their way via an odd red door into the world of Levaal, a sort of buffer world between our own and another on the far side of Levaal, on the other side of a great wall.
Levall is your typical portal world, home to magic and all sorts of strange creatures, including mages, winged females known as Invia, stone giants, demons, and dragons, though the latter are nearly all imprisoned high in the sky (as you might imagine, they’re none too happy about that and are scheming to find a way out, which mostly would not be very good for humans). Levaal is also home to Lord Vous — a crazed mage trying (and very close to succeeding) to become a god, with the assistance of his Archmage.
If the fantasy world is relatively typical, albeit inventive and as frequently original in its creation as it is in its familiarity, the two protagonists are anything but. “Pilgrims” are allegedly key players in this greater struggle taking place, although it’s not always clear exactly why or how. The two of them somewhat haphazardly pick up some allies, some enemies, and some who are first one and then the other.
The Pilgrims was a solid if uninspiring entry into the trilogy. I did enjoy many of the particular details of the world — the war mages, the idea of dragons being caged, “dark lord” being not just dark but really more than a little insane. But while I never really considered putting the book down, I can’t say it propelled me forward all that much either; I never felt fully engaged with the story or the characters. The former felt too meandering and random while the latter were a little too flat to make me really care about what happened to them.
As mentioned, these weren’t large enough of a problem to have me give up reading, and if I had to nail down a rating based on a fuzzy recollection, my guess is I would have given The Pilgrims a three. It kept me interested enough to finish and pick up its sequel, even if I did so without any great excitement. Unfortunately, Shadow is more of a step back than forwards, leaving me questioning whether I’ll continue on to the concluding novel.
In Shadow, well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what happens in Shadow. Characters wander around a bit, stay in one place a bit, join up, interact, split up, interact, wander some more, and that’s about it. Some of the encounters evoke more tension or interest than others, but I just never had any sense of a big picture or a larger narrative, or at least, not very often. It all felt a bit of a muddle, frustratingly so. I’d mention a few specific plot points, but really, they didn’t seem to really matter much in their specificity of action.
Characters remain mostly pretty flat and/or unexplored and also nearly wholly passive, with events happening to them rather than them initiating any sort of action themselves. In a character or two, that would be fine, and in a main character it might be subversive, but across the board, it lends an overall dullness to the plot. The many quick shifts amongst the characters (shifts not always handled smoothly) don’t help matters.
Elliott offers up a very interesting premise as well as an intriguing behind-the-scenes look (almost literally) of how magic works, but both are only slightly touched upon, with more detail — I assume — saved up for the third book, often a problem of second books in trilogies. The same problem occurs with character motivations; we’re never quite clear on why people are doing what they’re doing (or why they did what they’ve already done) and while it’s possible those motivations will be made clear in the next volume, it remains an issue in the book we’re actually reading.
I don’t think I’d call Shadow a bad book — it has some original creations of plot and character and a few effective scenes — but it is a befuddling book. Its many parts are not only not greater than its whole, but they don’t even really add up to a whole, leaving me just as at sea as its main character. As for a recommendation, I’d say hold off on the series for now; it’s possible Elliott will pull it off, but he’s got some work to do.
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
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