Review of The Outstretched Shadow

18 03 2008

I got The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory from the Tor free book promotion they’re doing for… I guess their new website. Either I haven’t been paying attention, or their marketing isn’t very clear. Nonetheless, I support free books—especially for decent ones for which I had little initial interest. The other free books have been Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and Spin by Robert Wilson.

The Outstretched Shadow is, I think, the first serious fantasy book I’ve read in a while. Serious fantasy means it’s got magic and unicorns and demons and everything. There’s got to be an elaborate back story to the world that’s not earth. There’s even sometimes elves and the hint of potential dragons-that-were to be dragons-that-are. Pretty much everything that a fantasy fan will like is in here.

Outstreched Shadow starts off really well. It introduces one of three systems of magic—all of which are based around the same central principle (which is sort of a plot spoiler, so I’m not actually going to tell you). The main character’s morals seem fuzzy and out of focus with the rest of his world—he’s definitely not a ‘good’ kid, kind of a rebellious teen. His explorations of the physical, social, and magical boundaries are engaging. The city is one of the more alive and unique and alive cities I’ve seen since I read Godstalk by P. C. Hodgell.

Unfortunately, the moment the plot of the book moves forward out of the city, as is to be expected in epic fantasy, all the nuances of character and anything remotely interesting about the book vanish. The magic system—actually, everything—becomes black and white. There is bizarre ‘the-force’ theme going on. If you give into anger and pain, you’ll end up being totally evil. It’s frustrating, because there’s this veil of depth that is totally fake.

Also, have you ever read those books in which seventeen-year olds are amazingly observant and aware, and tend to make all the right decisions and assumptions—and even if they don’t, it doesn’t do anything bad to them? Yeah, this is one of those books. I felt like the characters were thinking about personal theories in ways that were deeper than most people’s hindsight. Kind of like… ‘Thanks for doing all the hard thinking work for me, Mr. Character.’

The book was exciting enough, despite obvious and predictable shortcomings. I will probably someday read the next book or two—I do want to see what new plot elements are introduced because a lot of lose ends were left, and there is some hope that the story can regain its depth—because it did start with some. I recommend reading it if you enjoy a bit of epic-ness and can deal with two dimensional characters who are annoyingly smart and a rather predictable set of plot events. I know I don’t make it sound attractive, but I did have fun for most of the time I was reading it!




One response

3 04 2008

This book doesn’t require much thinking on the part of the reader, but was a good read nonetheless…

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