Being a book critic is sort of like getting to experience Christmas at least once a week. Getting books from your favorite authors months before release is the gift that keeps on giving. Earlier this year I read GREATSHADOW by James Maxey, and despite my cynical reservations it blew me away. Now we have HUSH, the much anticipated sequel that I had to wait excruciating months for. Months! With great excitement I started reading about the most original and colorful fantasy world I have encountered in recent memory.
HUSH picks up almost immediately after the events of GREATSHADOW. If you haven’t read GREATSHADOW please stop with this review and go buy it. Otherwise you may encounter some spoilers, though I will try to keep those to a minimum.
The great and mighty Infidel, minus her vaunted invulnerability and super strength, is determined to fulfill an oath made to friend, the late ice-ogress shaman Aurora. Infidel seeks to return a sacred relic to Aurora’s people up North. Along the way Infidel blunders into a conspiracy to kill Glorious, the elemental dragon of the Sun and bring an unending ice-age to the world. Can Infidel defeat this insidious plot?
You may recall that I was unenthusiastic to begin reading GREATSHADOW. I quit reading fantasy in the first place because of dragons and magical quests and the like. It was only the new wave of gritty, ultra-dark Sword & Sorcery fantasy that brought me back to the genre. Ironically enough, as much as I love the works of Abercrombie and Martin, GREATSHADOW proved to be a welcome diversion from all the backstabbing and plotting. HUSH is no different in this regard, though perhaps the luster may have worn off a little.
The most striking thing about Maxey’s Dragon Apocalypse series is the world he has created. GREATSHADOW was set solely on the Isle of Fire but HUSH expands on this, taking us across the Sea of Wine and up to the icy North. This is a world where magic is the rule rather than the exception. And you won’t just find one kind of magic either. There are layers upon layers of different belief system driven magic. Everyone appears to have a super power of some sort or another. The half-seeds are particularly cool – humans bonded with animals through blood magic to create a sort of hybrid. There is a fair amount of philosophical introspection, musing on the nature of magic in a world where myth overpowers reality. HUSH is absolutely loaded with ideas and that may just be a hindrance as well as a selling point.
For the most part all of these conflicting viewpoints and magic systems mesh surprisingly well, but the overabundance can lead to shellshock. The Silver Isles are exotic and dangerous. I love that this is a fantasy novel in an island setting with a heavy dose of pirate swagger but sometimes Maxey seems to just make up the rules as he goes along.
The cast this time around is also noticeably weaker than that of GREATSHADOW. We are once more joined by the ghost of Stagger, impotent observer of doom. Stagger plays a much bigger role this time around and I would even hazard to say that he is the main protagonist as opposed to Infidel. I liked watching Stagger develop but I feel like he faced far too many death defying scenarios for an already dead guy. Then of course we have Infidel, lacking in super strength and invulnerability but armed with the Immaculate Attire and a hammer made of solid sunlight. I didn’t enjoy Infidel as much this time around. She had room to grow as a character but failed to do so. Without her super powers she happens to get knocked out quite a lot. Joining our two lead characters is a crippled witch by the name of Sorrow. Sorrow will be taking the lead in the third book of the series, WITCHBREAKER, and I have high hopes for her. Sorrow is a materialist weaver with the ability to manipulate the very particles of matter. Then there is the Romer family…
To make the journey North, Infidel hires the notorious Wanderer ship the Freewind. This is a vessel crewed by a family with magical powers. The captain has a mastery over the wind. She has a son who can run on water and swim through air. There is a son who can control ropes with his mind. A third son is partially shark. There is a daughter who can control a person’s taste buds and another daughter who can see unseeable things through a spyglass. Oh yeah, there is also a girl who can impart her inertia upon other people with only a touch but she appears only briefly at the beginning and then sort of vanishes never to return…I liked the Romer family, but I think they were sadly underdeveloped. Perhaps we will see them again in WITCHBREAKER as there are some minor plot threats involving the family that need tying up.
Perhaps my greatest problem with HUSH is that I had set my expectations too high. With GREATSHADOW my expectations couldn’t have been any lower and that allowed Maxey to surprise and captivate me immensely. HUSH didn’t have this same luxury, instead having to meet my ridiculous standards. Maxey has talent and just as importantly (and even more rare) is that he can generate truly novel ideas. As a sequel HUSH expands upon the world introduced in the first book, even if it doesn’t match up in terms of quality. I still had a good time reading this novel, and fully intend to read and review WITCHBREAKER when it is released.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: I can’t actually remember there being any foul language this time.
Violence: Dynamic fights stripped from the pages of a comic book it would seem, with the addition of some grisly deaths.
Sex: Hinted at but nothing more.