In Ice Forged , Gail Z. Martin introduced a reader to Blaine McFadden; a noble youth banished to prison at the icy edge of civilization for killing his abusive father. Not content with this twisted beginning, Martin then rained down a magical apocalypse upon the world of the Ascendant Kingdoms, destroyed magic, and sent a hardened Blaine back to his homeland on a crusade to try to save that very magic. A journey that captivated in its blending of fantasy and post-apocalyptic themes.
In book two, Reign of Fire , the story picked up with Blaine and his friends (mortal and vampiric) frantically seeking to survive in this world-gone-mad and uncover a way to re-anchor magic. For since the apocalypse, magic itself is wild, untamed, and beyond human use; its only remaining manifestations in the world the sorcerous storms that ravage the land and the hellish creatures it sometimes spawn to prey on humanities survivors. Naturally, though, there are people who struggle to keep the magic untamed, seeing in the chaos a means for themselves and their kind (vampires!) to assume their rightful place as homo superior. The quest and clashes that ensue see Blaine and his companions encounter ancient mysteries, nihilistic vampires and their mortal minions in a world frantically clinging to civilization.
Now, Martin has returned to the saga of Blaine McFadden in War of Shadows. While magic might have been re-anchored in the world, it is highly unstable and terribly dangerous to use, and Blaine's simple quest has now evolved into something more: A campaign to unite, or conquer, the warlords who are fighting over the carcass of the Ascendant Kingdoms!
For me, the single greatest achievement of Gail Z. Martin in Shadows was finding the right balance between the different genres she has been attempting to juggle throughout this series. With the large role vampires have played in the Ascendant Kingdoms series so far, these urban fantasy darlings have sometimes overshadowed the rest of the story (for me anyway), but in this installment, Martin found the perfect proportions of traditional fantasy, medieval urban fantasy, and post-apocalyptic, mixing them together into a near perfect recipe for pure entertainment.
Added to this, Blaine has been gifted in Shadows with several compelling enemies. Human and non-human beings whose motives, struggles, machinations, and rationales are all laid out clearly for readers, so that these characters become real people who grown beyond the “villain” archetype into true competitors for Blaine.
Not only that, but several old (and a few new) secondary characters come into their own here. People whose fresh voices and personality shine through, not only spotlighting themselves but also other portions of the ongoing saga from other than Blaine’s viewpoint. Especially compelling is one character dealing with his growing vampiric traits (You’ll understand once you read the novels.) and another attempting to brave an untenable situation with a madman, whom she once viewed as her mentor. Both of these “side” plots real highlights of the story.
Obviously, nothing is perfect, and War of Shadows isn’t the exception. While it was highly entertaining and filled with more than a few great scenes, there were still times where the narrative slowed to a crawl. It wasn’t as if these sections were filler material or massive info dumps, because they were not. Rather, it felt as if Gail Z. Martin added a few too many unimportant details or allowed a conversations to become a bit too repetitive before it ended. None of this was horribly noticeable, but it did cause me to skim more than a few pages here or there throughout the book.
All in all though, I have no major complaints with War of Shadows or where Martin is taking the Ascendant Kingdoms series. Sure, the vampires get to me sometimes. (There are just so damn many of them it seems.) But if this novel is any precursors to what is to follow, I can put up with the blood suckers, and I would encourage you to as well, because, if you are a lover of genre blending fantasy, this series will not disappoint.
I received this book from Orbit and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.