Pyr (387 pp, $17.00, Paperback, June 2011)
Reviewed by Chris Braak
Shadow’s Lure, by Jon Sprunk, is the continuing story of Caim the Knife, formerly an assassin, then briefly a supernaturally-empowered assassin, now a supernaturally-empowered vagabond. After helping Empress Josphine (“Josey” to her friends) secure the throne of Nimea away from that empire’s totalitarian church, Caim has gone north into barbarous Eregoth, to find out more about his long-lost family, and discover the secret origin of his heritage. While in Eregoth, Caim runs afoul of a duke under the sway of an evil sorceress, and finds himself embroiled in a rebellion against them. Meanwhile, the newly-crowned Empress has to fight off an assassination attempt and a conspiracy to snatch that hard-won throne away.
As with his first book, Shadow’s Son, Sprunk reveals a strong command of the sort of scene-by-scene, action pacing necessary for good, tense battle scenes, and Shadow’s Lure definitely delivers those. The fights are fast and dramatic, primarily because Sprunk doesn’t short-change the stakes; people are in danger, and people die, and there is no sense of Sprunk “coddling” anyone, or letting the reader get off easy by keeping your favorites alive. War is a dirty business, and Shadow’s Lure, for the most part, meets it head on.
Sprunk has also done some interesting things with the character of his villains – he has given roles that could have easily degenerated into caricatures of villainy some interesting depth that livens up what would otherwise be a standard bit of “Look how EVIL we can be!” scenes.
The only problem with the book is that both the main story (Caim going north to find his family) and the secondary story (Josey dealing with some kind of monster assassin) both lack anything but the artificial urgency of immediate danger. Josey’s story especially feels tacked on, inessential in itself, and largely unrelated to the main narrative. But even Caim’s story has an almost accidental feel to it; the driving actions of the plot are mostly a consequence of Caim coincidentally being in the wrong (or right) place at the right (or wrong) time.
All that said, it does offer a lot of promise for a third book (Shadow’s Master, due in March 2012), setting up all of the elements for both a large, epic narrative about shadow monsters and world domination, and a gut-wrenching personal dilemma that is actually very rarely seen in modern sword and sorcery. The generally high quality of the writing, and the ambition apparent in the last steps of Shadow’s Lure, makes up for a bit of a meandering middle, and definitely makes the upcoming third leg of the story worth checking out.
Chris Braak is a novelist and playwright from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His most recent books, The Translated Man and Other Stories and Mr. Stitch, are available at Threat Quality Press. You can find out more about Chris at the Chris Braak Website Experience (www.chrisbraak.com).