Look, readers, I’m not reviewing this for myself, I’m reviewing it for a friend, OK? Blackthorn Book Tours gave me a copy in exchange for an honest review, so what could I do?
Elves? Dragons? Talking animals? Grand sweeps of quasi-politics in a faux-mediaeval world, where characters wih strange names and no laptops talk portentously about swords and magic? Really? I haven’t done these things since I read Tolkein and CS Lewis as a kid, and I wasn’t planning to restart. Let alone on a book that is 1500 pages long, dammit! And to compromise me further, this is a book that includes girls with green eyes, and at least one sexy bloke with a finely chiselled jaw, and if you read this blog’s mission statement you’ll know that I Don’t Do Those Sorts of Books.
So to bring you this review I’ve had to dig deep for my IED (I mean Inner Elf-Daughter, not that other thing) who I eventually unearthed from some fantasy about a Rolls Royce motorbike, where I’d repurposed her as a figurine. I think she may have been quite grateful for the rescue, because when I told her to read this book for me, she set about it immediately, even though she’s a bit flakey now and needs glasses. She did remark that it would have been nice to have an audio book. (I wished that too – this is a tale that would have worked rather well in that medium and then she could have shelled my entire season’s bean-crop or done something else productive whilst preparing this review. As it was she was no use to anyone for best part of a week.)
So this is the IED’s review. I have to report, sheepishly, that she rather loved this book.
This is a book which pretty much achieves its towering ambitions. It takes you on a journey through a world that it builds in meticulous detail, through peoples and troubles and dreams and impossibilities, and makes you actually mind about them. It carries you high and low through immense landscapes and immense breadth of story, giving a sense of space and vaster possibilities than you previously knew. But it also takes you into the tiny, jewelled detail of individual hearts, making you laugh and cry and hold your breath.
Throughout, the book is driven by the author’s skills at making characters – there were many stand-out figures in this book, young and old, elvish, part-elvish and human, good and bad – and all of them came fully realised, with lives and motivations that seemed solid and real, even in this world of smoke and mirrors. As each of them appeared, I felt I came to know them, absorb them, understand them – even when I didn’t like them. Sadly, for my fading abilities, there were rather too many of these very real characters – from chapter to chapter I forgot their foreign names, confused their faces sometimes, (oh dear, all elves look the same to me once my eyelids start to droop, so you should probably no-platform me as species-ist) so I couldn’t always remember where I met them before or whether I could trust them. But forgive me. I’m old now. This happens to me in the real world too these days, so I can’t blame the author.
There is a plot to this book, which drives it on through its many pages, but a lot of the time one is lost in the detail of the moment and the bigger journey of the book gets obscured by more immediate challenges and details and all those interesting characters. Actually I would have liked a bit more plot to hold onto – perhaps, a tighter, cleverer structure, with more mind-bending twists, and possibly (dare I say it?) a little bit shorter and less all encompassing… But this is an epic quest-book so I shouldn’t complain – it is Myth and Shadow after all, not Mulder and Scully. And compared to the endless rambling of The Lord of the Rings (never mind the pointless broken-back quest of The Hobbit) this novel was as tight and well woven as a Gordian knot.
Thinking of genre, the least appealing aspect of this book was its counter-genre deployment of sex, which generally left me pretty queasy. Now I don’t mean sensuality – there could hardly be a more sensuous genre than this one. No, I mean the mechanics of bulging erections and grunting and crotches and entering her. The author of course is writing for a modern audience and perhaps he feels he has to add this sort of stuff or nobody will bother to read it. But this makes me suspect that he might have missed the point. There are lots of genres where some thrilling crotch-action provides a welcome break, but this isn’t one of them. Doesn’t he see that at its very core, this genre is about symbolism and sublimination? What does he suppose all those journeys are about? All that yearning? All those alien creatures? Even those swords for heaven’s sake! Who needs the vulgar spelling out of it? Would a Georgia O’Keefe lily or skyscraper be more alluring with some porno-genitals pasted at that place where imagination kicks in? I don’t think so.
But I’ll forgive him that error. Matthew Cox is a terrific writer and to judge by the number of books with his name on, he must have been writing teenage fiction since his cradle. One can see this long apprenticeship in the deftness of his characters and the fluidity of his world-building. But this book is a knight’s move away from that previous writing. He is finding his place in a rather new terrtory, and later books will tell us if he makes a go of it.
Meanwhile readers – and I say this from my heart – a spirit who has lived for a long time shelling beans in the dark may be refreshed by this book.
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Aegaan is a vast and righteous kingdom, yet darkness gathers in the distant corners of the realm. Elven raids on small towns have inflamed racial tensions with humans, pushing distrust to hatred and the brink of war.
Anrael wanders the woods alone until a chance meeting tempts him to set aside his contempt for those who scorn his half-elven blood.
When Kylie, a naive elf terrified of humans, is thrust among them against her will, she begins to question her mother’s tales of dread.
Having lost everything dear to him, the bandit king Jhelan lives only to seek challenge in battle… until he finds himself willing to die protecting that which he hates the most.
The diabolical mystique of the dark elves cloaks L’an Thal’Sara in protection, but the cruelest lie she tells is to herself.
Thaelwyn, a virtuous knight, sets out to discover the source of the Elves’ aggression, but faces a much greater test within his mind.
Beneath the chaos, minions of the Destroyer search for their promised leader, a child possessing power beyond their years. If the innocent falls to darkness, a kingdom rife with hatred will surely crumble.
Purchase links: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WNYMDCQ https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Shadow-Cox-S-Matthew/dp/1950738116/ (let me know if you need non-US links)
Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. Since 1996, he has developed the “Divergent Fates” world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, The Awakened Series, The Harmony Paradox, the Prophet of the Badlands series, and the Daughter of Mars series take place.
His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of two custom tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.
He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.
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