Monday, October 06, 2008

Book/Magazine Review: Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Shadowrealm starts with its feet off the ground, the fantasy equivalent of a nonstop blockbuster movie as it's one tense scene after another. Once I began reading, I couldn't put it down. In many ways, this is adventure fiction at its finest as conflict is constant and there is no shortage of suspense.

The strength of Kemp, as many others have said, is his characterization. Kemp features a wide ensemble from the heroes, the villains, and everyone in between (and there's a lot of 'em in this book). His protagonists have unique voices without sounding too altruistic and the antagonists, while sometimes two-dimensional, at the very least pass the evil-overlord stupidity test. What I particularly enjoyed was how the author juggles the many factions in this book: it's not simply "us" versus "them" and instead multiple groups are at work that includes a few betrayals and reversals.

Action fantasy has this tendency to be predictable yet I can honestly say that Shadowrealm is anything but that. That also plays into its theme of redemption. Again, both protagonists and antagonists are continuously presented with this choice and Kemp lures readers in by finally delivering what he's been building up over the past few novels.

As for the rest, it's your typical epic fantasy, with the chips down and the fate of the world down to its last heroes. Readers familiar with the Forgotten Realms RPG brand will get some answers but honestly that didn't interfere with my reading experience. The only word of warning I have is to get the other books before you jump into Shadowrealm. There's little room for foreplay here and the novel is instead an extended climax.

Readers who've followed Kemp this far won't be disappointed and those looking for some good old sword & sorcery will be satisfied. Easily a compelling read to rival authors like Jim Butcher, Glen Cook, or James Barclay.

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