Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk
(Prepare thyself, no nonsense magical assassin fantasy)

Publisher: PYR
Genre: Assassin Fantasy (AKA lotsa killing)
Page Count: 279 Pages (Short, but that's cool)
Author: Jon Sprunk

Jon Sprunk’s debut novel SHADOW’S SON, a tale of corrupt religion and nobility, brutal assassinations and dark magic is as no nonsense as it gets.

Assassin books are kind of the dime a dozen sort these days. What we need here is clearly something a little different. Thankfully, in the main character Caim we kind of get it. He is without compunction about his killing of targets…if he was the one who did it that is. When an assassination that he was supposed to carry out was already achieved in a gory fashion before he arrives on scene…our man is understandably pissed. Thus jumps off a race that includes his sexy, dress-clinging, ghost-like companion Kit (who only he can see) and the orphaned daughter of that supposed target, a high maintenance socialite named Josephine (Josey) as they try to find out not only who killed her father, but also the deeper machinations and evil that seem to permeate the holy city of Othir.

In amongst that we can add Caim’s ability to “summon” the darkness and shadows around him to cloak and hide himself,  a fair number of subtle and not-so-subtle hints at Caim and Kit’s back story, (which I am sure will get further fleshed out in the rest of the trilogy) and even another baddie character with similar abilities hinting at a very dark connection between Caim and his "magic" indeed. Kit, our sexy ghost, is especially fun and interesting because we know so little about her, not to mention her ability to "scout" ahead and see into rooms for our hero...letting him know what he is in for. That added a bit of an extra bonus for me as a fresh take within this sub-genre.

Most of this is fairly by-the-numbers for this sort of fantasy. I can actually see this being something that could have been released in the 70’s, as it is a quick, easy fantasy read that you could devour in one sitting without a lot of complexity. That’s not meant as a slight mind you, but kind of a caution. I say that because there are a few elements that probably certainly required larger focus and fleshing out. There is a scene in which there is described a rape. That rape is brief (thankfully) and quite poorly worded as it comes across in a way that makes it more ambiguous than it likely should be. It is also glossed over by its victim to an extent that makes her a tad less believable, if only because her reaction should have been stronger and it isn’t. That may be just my opinion, as perhaps she is meant to deal with it in that way to forget it…it just stood out to me as uncharacteristic is all. That said other areas are tended to perfectly. Case in point, there is a scene with a huge twist near the end and threw me for a loop, as I didn’t see it coming at all. Beyond that we don’t find out all that much beyond the twist, and I again assume this will get more fleshed out in the future books.

Every last sentence in this book is used to its full measure. The prose isn't groundbreaking, and is very workman-like, let's get the job done sort of writing. That's not a slight mind you as a lot of my favourite authors write in this fashion. The book clocks in at a mere 280-ish pages total and all of that flies by. What all this means is that Sprunk writes most of his action at a breakneck pace and we are all the better, as readers, for it. Said action sequences, of which there are a fair number, are concise, brutal, magical and breathless.

In the end I quite liked this book, as it was just the kind of episodic fantasy where I neither have to struggle with complexity nor have to contend with a cavalcade of characters. The bad guys are mean, nasty and vile, and the good guys are good and heroic…if a bit gray in the beginning. My only real issue is one that I have discovered since the advent of TV DVD box sets…my brain wants me to wait for the whole trilogy to be out because I want to devour the whole story in one sitting, rather than episode by episode. That’s nitpicking though.

If you are looking for a quick, dark-yet-fun episodic fantasy world, then Caim and Kit’s world of action-packed chases, fights, assassins, magic and political intrigue will fit the bill quite nicely. It will, however, make you wish the sequel SHADOW’S LURE, was out already so you could continue the story. A quality read, and Sprunk really does have an eye for quick prose that maintains a nice atmosphere, whilst losing none of his pacing in the longrun.


  1. Sounds like it could be promising. I confess I pretty much dismissed this one from the get-go, due to the assassin theme and the "hooded figure" cover art.

    I've come to have the opposite problem as you, when it comes to completing a series. It used to be I would collect everything and then read it at once, but now there's just so much out there (and so many interesting series just getting started) that waiting would take WAY too long, and I just want to jump in and read some good books.

  2. I've been hearing good things about Sprunk, thanks for the honest review!

    with all this swimming through Mieville and Stephenson and the like, sometimes I am really craving a fun, fast episodic fantasy. old fashioned, but comfortable, you know?

  3. @ Chris: Yeah, it could easily slide under folks radar and shouldn't because it is a solid read.

    @ Redhead - Indeed, you shouldn't be disappointed by this quick read then.

  4. I really liked this one, and I'm looking forward to the next.



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