Shadowblade is a wonderful story about loyalty, honor, and doing the right thing in an environment ripe with treachery and scheming. While having some similarities to high fantasy, this world has a distinct Arabian Nights feel in both the scenery and the approach to certain problems.
The various cultures are elaborate, and grounded in history and circumstance, making them solid even in their mythology. The blend of science and what appears to be magic is steeped in cultural roots both those forgotten by all and those kept alive through the efforts of a class of historian healers.
Yes, I’m biased toward Middle Eastern cultures, but the world setup is intriguing and complex enough to draw any reader.
There are many layers running beneath the main tale, and each informs or twists the known events beautifully. On the surface, it’s a heroic story of overthrowing a brutal, corrupt regime. But the more you learn, the more a mystery unfolds from within the plot.
To make this come about, the historians construct a plausible background using law and tradition to create firm grounding beneath their actions. The mystery comes into play as this background seems to follow close to what little remains known and raises questions about who the main players really are. There are several plausible links with significant consequences even though circumstance and history deny both reader and characters the facts necessary to prove construct or truth.
The balance of myth, deliberate influence of the characters’ understanding, and truths known only to a limited group makes every moment rife with fascinating possibility. The neat thing about this is how I had my suspicions, many of which proved true, but with so much shifting and deliberate manipulation, I couldn’t fix on an answer. I remained open to various possibilities until the big reveal. Even better, when I got the answer, I knew enough about the main characters to choose a side no matter how my sympathies had been triggered by the various positions.
There is a large cast with Naia and then Karrim at the center of it all while the healer Gassan and historian Mehtab run a close second. I don’t remember who had a POV scene and whose positions became evident through observation (beyond these four), but the cast members play distinct enough roles in the unfolding story that I never got confused.
Naia is a complicated person unwilling to keep her head down at the cost of others while Karrim is her perfect match in more than just blade skills. The machinations surrounding them are not their own, but don’t think they are in any way passive participants. While staying true to the intent behind their orders, they both choose the path of honor even when it goes against their wishes. They’re good people with rare skills and set into play at a tumultuous time when flexibility and intent are key to defending the empire they swore to protect from both external and internal attacks.
This is not a sweet novel. There is violence, sensual scenes, and moral struggles. Each forms a critical piece of the story where politics, personality, history, and emotions ranging from revenge to passion impact the complex plotting. The characters are dynamic. You come to love, hate, respect, and/or revile them. Whether you burn with their struggles or cheer their defeats, I doubt you can stand separate from these events. I certainly couldn’t.
I fell head first into this story and resented any distractions that pulled me from it. The plot raises questions without laying out a clear path so there’s much opportunity to speculate, and the end proved satisfying even where it didn’t follow my expectations. It’s a worthy visit to a vibrant, fascinating world.
P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.