AWW 2013 Review: Shadows of the Realm (Dionne Lister) [Spoilers]

Shadows of the Realm (Dionne Lister)
Shadows of the Realm (Dionne Lister)

This is my first review for AWW 2013, and it’s a book that the author herself suggested (among other novels and authors) in my joining post for the challenge. So, thank you, Dionne, for the heads-up!

I chose to focus my challenge reading on sci-fi, fantasy, and horror because these are genres I love in screen culture (movies, TV series, computer games), and I never feel that I read enough in them.

I’m hoping to have a blend of the sub-genres, and have started this year’s challenge with a fantasy novel that’s the first in the Circle of Talia series. It’s actually the kind of book I swore never to read: Book 1 of an as-yet-unfinished series. I don’t like waiting around for the next instalment. I broke this rule for the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, and am in an uneasy froth of anticipation about the Next Book.

This is a good thing, though, to be in a froth of anticipation. It means that I enjoyed the book so much that I can’t wait to immerse myself in that world again.

Did I feel that way about Lister’s Shadows of the Realm? Yes, I did. Mostly.

Lister gives her fictional world of Talia a real and brutal threat against which its diminished network of realmists must fight.  Talia is in danger of destruction at the hands of a once-beaten but now returned foe, the Gormons, who had been banished to the Third Realm. The realmists – I would liken them to magic-users – draw their power from the Second Realm, and are a feared group that has waned in numbers and status over time.

The novel follows the journeys of several key groups as they work their way through desperate strategies, and avoid or overcome enemies. With the  narrative told from multiple perspectives, Lister builds tension well and maintains a consistent pace. There were quite a few sections that I found riveting, and the author evokes weighty consequences for the world should the realmists fail. It’s often a sticking point in stories where there’s not enough at stake; in Shadows, it’s all at stake (and you’re made to feel it)!

The reimagining of dragons as a fussy, ceremony-loving community is a welcome change from the symbiotic human companions that they’re often presented as, and Lister deftly sketches the back-stories for many of the characters. In particular, I liked the claustrophobic atmosphere and intrigue in the Veresian royal family compound, and one wonders how the threads from that history will play out as the series continues.

There were some elements of the novel that didn’t work for me, however, and these included:

  • Typos and the occasional malapropism. There were also multiple references to orbs rather than eyes (e.g. “penetrating silver orbs” in the early sections), which is unfortunate.
  • I couldn’t help feeling that Bronwyn and Blayke, the two main characters we’re meant to be invested in, lacked depth and interest. I found them bland. I much preferred the other characters, like the awful Corinne, ‘mad’ Hermas, and Avruellen. There was also an element of over-describing characters’ thoughts that I sometimes found intrusive.
  • The ferocity of the Gormons is well established and convincing, but I couldn’t help feeling that their reasons for being completely soulless bastards was thin. They would destroy and consume all of Talia because…they could? I don’t need the Gormons to be complicated or ambivalent creatures, but it would be more satisfying if there was a bit more to them. If they’re sneaky enough to plan an escape from the Third Realm and seed Talia with their agents, they can’t just be a mindless, consuming horde.

All that said, I’m looking forward to reading the second novel in the series, which Lister has flagged will be out in March 2013.

The first novel holds out the promise of an epic showdown that, at the moment, looks hopeless for Talia (of course!). I’m keen to see how the situation gets turned around.

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