Looking for a quick and exciting read a while back I cast my eyes over my ever growing list of books I should read some time (better known as my Goodreads to-read shelf) and settled on Jon Sprunk’s Shadow’s Son. Given my penchant for character-based fantasy I thought it might be a good fit. As it turns out I was right and Shadow’s Sonmakes for an energetic albeit somewhat dark read. Caim is a haunted young man; both literally and figuratively. He is plagued by the memory of his famiy’s death while being constantly followed by a protective spirit named Kit that only he can see. Caim’s tortured past has cast him on a path of violence and darkness and he now works as an assassin. Things get dicey when someone attempts to set Caim up as a fall guy leaving him in possession of the deceased mark’s daughter Josephine. Suddenly, Caim is on a desperate quest to unravel the web of conspiracy in the city of Othir.
Shadow’s Son isn’t a long novel and is made quicker thanks to its rapid fire pacing. Sprunk eschews the doling out of lengthy exposition instead focusing on conveying information as part and parcel with the action. Over the course of the novel Sprunk doles out enough bits to get a handle on the political situation in the holy city of Othir while dropping vague hints about the world beyond the city and historical empire that once existed in the path. However, Shadow’s Son isn’t the type of novel that looks to tug on its reader’s sense of grandeur and epic but rather places the majority of its efforts on ingratiating reader’s with its central protagonist and the people important to him. In this instance the details laid out by Sprunk about Caim’s world are just enough to provide a vivid context in which to place the young assassin through the ringer.
Over the course of the novel Caim is beaten, stabbed, threatened by the mysterious and the magical, as well as forced to come face-to-face with the truth of his own past. Of course Caim does his own fair share of of beating and stabbing as well. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the novel is Caim’s relationship with his spectral companion Kit. In an interesting turn Sprunk actually steers clear of examining what Kit is at the outset instead focusing on what she means to Caim. Being an assassin is a lonely trade and the constant companionship of the spectral Kit has humanizing effect on a man whose profession forces him to keep humanity at arms length. Later Sprunk deftly uses the sudden presence of Josephine to examine some of the hidden and unspoken depth of Caim and Kit’s relationship. Given that Caim is the only person that can see Kit their relationship and sometimes bickering was also a welcome source of comic relief.
Shadow’s Son is a novel that doesn’t detail a super complicated magic system or an intricately detailed world. What it Shadow’s Son does do is introduce and complex and engaging character whose trials and successes provoke a response from the response; oftentimes that response is “that was awesome.” The fluid prose and action heavy plot call to mind the swords and sorcery tales of old. While at its heart Shadow’s Son is an adventure story it is also a classic tale of revenge and definitely borrows from familiar fantasy tropes with Sprunk hinting at a greater destiny for Caim. With its vivid action and deft characterization Shadow’s Son is novel I highly recommend to anyone lucking for quick and entertaining read. Shadow’s Son is followed by Shadow’s Lure (2011) and concludes with Shadow’s Master (2012).