Earlier this year I reviewed Jon Sprunk’s 2010 debut novel, Shadow’s Son. While I very much enjoyed it, my review was less than glowing. I felt some things were sacrificed to the novel’s breakneck pace and that Caim, Spunk’s protagonist, was a little too one-dimensional. In a not so stunning development, Shadow’s Lure corrects many of these deficiencies and in so doing demonstrates tremendous growth in Sprunk’s craft.
Without spoiling too much of what went on in the first novel, Lure picks up right where Son left off. Caim (what?! the main character survives? no way!) leaves his home in Othir behind, heading north to discover the truth behind the murder of his parents and his power over the shadow. He leaves Josey behind, now Empress of the Nimean Empire, to consolidate her power.
The nature of the two stories, which could be read completely separate from one another, blunt the pace that was such a hallmark of Sprunk’s debut. Much of the slowdown (never slowness) is affected by much more extensive character development and world building, an almost always welcome and, in this case, necessary inclusion. That lack of frenetic energy shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s inferior. Quite the opposite. In taking his time to build the narrative, Sprunk has written a different kind of novel that succeeds because of what it doesn’t have, almost as much as because of what it does (Yes, that was an awkward sentence, screw it).
Lure is divided primarily into three points of view – Josey, Caim, and Kit. While Sprunk occasionally dips into other characters, it’s these three who comprise the bulk of the narrative. He separates them from one another in the novel’s early stages, providing him the opportunity to drill down to a level that the structure of the first novel never allowed him to.
Josey’s point of view is very political in nature, subject to plots and machinations of factions within the Empire. Through her, the world is capably fleshed out without resorting to information dumps or poorly concealed exposition. Similarly, Kit becomes the defacto spelunker who delves into the Shadow, revealing the world behind the world that is only tangentially touched on prior (for fans of Kit she gets significant page time). In contrast, Caim’s sections remain highly kinetic, often going from fight to fight. Moments of rest in between allow him to develop into a textured character and not a simple archetype.
Of course, it should be no surprise that Sprunk continues to shine in his depiction of action sequences. Sure, they compelled a raised eyebrow of disbelief from time to time, but they always left me with a crystal clear picture in my mind of how Caim whipped his opponent(s) – something that other writers (Weeks) in this sub-genre can struggle with. By novel’s end, the relentless action connects with the determined expansion of world and character, making Lure a much more complete novel than its predecessor.
There are some hiccups though. Things are on occasion too neat and black and white. At one point there’s an attack on Josey where a single bite would kill (or seriously incapacitate) her. Despite the creature being wrapped around her, she somehow manages to avoid such a fate. Sprunk uses the annoying trick of handicapping his protagonist with wound after festering wound. Someday, I would very much enjoy an author letting his protagonist face the final battle at 100%. The series’s villain is inherently evil and I never felt that her actions were righteous even from her perspective – something that modern fantasy has become very adept at doing. Mostly these are small quibbles and Sprunk tells such a capable story that none of them remotely imperiled my enjoyment of the novel.
While elements remain decidedly couched in a common, and arguably overused, motif, the Shadow Saga remains a worthy addition to the fantasy Rolodex. Once completed, Sprunk’s trilogy will go on the shelf right next to the Night Angel Trilogy where it will compete for the hearts of assassin lovers for years to come. For fans of Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson, and to some degree Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch, this is a series that shouldn’t be missed. Shadow’s Master, the third and final volume in the series, is already one of my most looked forward to titles of early 2012.
How to participate:
ONE additional entry may be had by doing the following: