The Shadow of Elysium is the second novella in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series. In The Penitent Damned, the preceding novella, we witnessed Alex’s untimely capture by the Priests of the Black. This installment is a continuation of Alex’s story, albeit I didn’t realize it at first because the story is told through the viewpoint of Abraham, a newly introduced character who also has demonic abilities. When the story begins, Abraham is being transported through the wilderness in Murnsk; his arresters later join in with Alex’s, and both prisoners continue on towards Elysium, where they will be imprisoned for life for containing demons. Roughly every other chapter is a flashback of Abraham’s, through which Wexler introduces us to the hardships of Abraham’s childhood; the effect of this structure, one of my favorite parts about the novella, is to give The Shadow of Elysium a highly personal tilt.
As we read on, we continue to learn more about Abraham’s past life, the reason for his capture, and the exact nature of his demonic powers. Wexler uses various scenes from Abraham’s childhood to convey his character, liberally applying a sense of retroflection in the process. In combination, the stories serve to give us a sense of Abraham’s compassion and adventurousness; I really appreciate that Wexler has chosen to use this structure to communicate this rather than to stuff the novella full of Abraham’s every waking thought — though there is some of that as well, unavoidably since The Shadow of Elysium is written in first person. What makes Wexler’s chosen structure all the more effective is his storytelling, which I’ve always felt is one of his greatest literary strengths.
There’s a scene in the first few pages of chapter one of The Shadow of Elysium, quite explicit but beautifully delivered, that serves to highlight my point. It’s not a particularly pleasant scene and is really only a short paragraph or so in length: it is, in fact, a description of about the sexual pleasures Abraham has performed in order to gain some food and alcohol. Though it’s a little explicit, the narrative is handed to us in a very matter-of-fact manner that serves to demonstrate the commonality of such an event, a bit of a shocking beginning that plunges us into the harsh world of Wexler’s reality. Simultaneously, the scene shows us Abraham’s will to survive and his strength of character. A few of these powerful scenarios within the course of a single novella, all with beautiful imagery and well-fitted moods, tie us tightly to the plights of Abraham and Alex.
To anyone who’s not read any Wexler yet, I highly recommend THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS novellas as an excellent introduction to Wexler’s works and the series in general. If you’ve read The Penitent Damned, you’ll definitely want to read The Shadow of Elysium, though Wexler leaves us with quite a cliffhanger, as in novella one. Additionally, it’s a nice look at how life in Murnsk and other parts of Wexler’s world from the point of view of one who was raised in near-poverty. There’s a lot of potential in THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, and I simply cannot wait to see what book three has to tell us. Just about everything in this series — down to the casual insertion of same-sex relationships in the plot in such a way that strongly implied normality — is absolutely amazing.