Reviewing books has its ups and downs. On one hand you are given free books to read and asked to give your opinion of them. Reading and stating my opinion are serious hobbies of mine. On the other hand, sometimes you are asked to read books about dragons. Dragons. I do not like dragons. I have not enjoyed reading about dragons for a long, long time. You’ll imagine my surprise then, when I completely fell in love with James Maxey‘s GREATSHADOW (Amazon).
The elements have been tamed by dragons. Through powerful magic the dragons of bound themselves to nature. Of these dragons Greatshadow is feared most of all. As the primal dragon of fire, Greatshadow’s merciless influence is universal. In order to finally slay Greatshadow once and for all the Church of the Book assembles a team of mercenaries and adventurers unlike any other. A team so unorthodox it might be able to get the job done.
Dragons. Groan. Magic. Yawn. Mercenaries. Curse you conventions of fantasy! But then I start to read GREATSHADOW and I realize that it is far from a traditional adventure. The world the story takes place in is not some pseudo-Medieval Europe. Instead readers are introduced to the Isle of Fire, a lawless volcanic tropical paradise replete with ancient history. Maxey gives tantalizing glimpses of a wider world across the ocean but focuses primarily on the verdant wonderland that is the Isle of Fire. This sort of pirate-aesthetic goes a long way toward separating GREATSHADOW from the endless masses of Tolkien knockoffs. The inhabitants of this world range from pygmies to ogres and all manner of fantasy creatures. Most surprisingly of all is just how cool Maxey’s take on dragons is. Multiple magic systems are also present and though they are only vaguely defined they all operate within the constraints of fictional universe.
And the characters! The eccentric band of adventurers that set out to slay Greatshadow resemble exactly the sort of team of heroes a kid might gather from his favorite action figures. The cast is really an accumulation of superheroes plucked from comics and plopped down in this fantasy setting where they flourish. Under a lesser author this approach would be really cheesy but rather than being campy it comes across as endearing. There is a woman who is nearly impervious to damage, a holy knight who is protected by armor prayed into existence and wields a hammer that allows him to fly, an ice-ogress shaman, a cleric whose magic comes from truth, a heretic whose magic comes from deception, a shape shifter, a faceless man, a man with skunk genetics, and more.
Despite the relatively short length of the novel for such an epic quest, character development does not suffer. Though Maxey doesn’t go into intense detail with each individual character he does make it evident what their motivations and relationships are. Each character is propelled by something different and each character has their own set of flaws. Perhaps my favorite character would be Lord Tower, the holy knight with conflicting feelings of lust and shame. I also really liked the cleric, who despite his intolerant nature, remained a true follower of his faith. And faith really becomes a big part of the relationship dynamic amongst the characters. Each person has their own beliefs and ideologies to go along with their motivations. Many of these faiths clash, creating an unstable alliance amongst the adventurers. Maxey never tells which belief is correct and it’s easy to wonder if perhaps all of them have their own merit.
GREATSHADOW is told from a limited first person perspective that is really a sort of third person perspective at the same time. Stagger, the narrator, is not the main character of the novel. Instead he dies in the first chapter and follows around Infidel, the lead protagonist and his heart’s desire, for most of the story. As a blood-ghost Stagger is primarily an observer but he also occasionally has the ability to act over the course of the story. I found this distinctive PoV style to be very compelling, especially when it comes to developing a bond with Infidel and the world as a whole.
GREATSHADOW is a remarkably charming quest, set in an invigorating new world. As the opening to a series, GREATSHADOW succeeds at grabbing the heart and piquing the interest for future entries.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Present but minimal
- Violence: Very comic-like in nature but there are a few grisly deaths
- Sex: There is a bit of innuendo and one actual scene that is described with class