Shadow Prowler: Every fantasy cliché in the book

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Alexey Pehov The Chronicles of Siala 1. Shadow ProwlerShadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov

Shadow Prowler, the first fantasy novel by Russian author Alexey Pehov to be translated to English, pulls out every fantasy cliché in the book: elves, dwarves, orcs, ogres, goblins, guilds of thieves and assassins, and an evil overlord (the “Nameless One”) who is about to awaken and take over the land with an army of evil beasties. Shadow Harold (yes, that’s his name) is a master thief who, against his will, gets involved in rescuing the world from said Nameless One. To do so, he must retrieve a magical doohickey (the Rainbow Horn) from someplace dark and scary in, yes, the Desolate Lands. If you wanted to play a drinking game, taking a shot whenever Shadow Prowler matches up with entries in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, you’d be under the table in no time.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsShadow Prowler initially reads a bit like Steven Brust: the thief Shadow Harold narrates the story in the first person, in a style similar to — but much less entertaining than — the assassin Vlad Taltos. (The similarity to Brust helps explain why I persisted through almost 300 pages.) Shadow Harold is a capable, somewhat standard criminal-hero, a bit full of himself but definitely appropriate for the story. However, he has an annoying tendency to switch tenses from paragraph to paragraph; most of the main action is narrated in the past tense, but Shadow Harold’s occasional thoughts about the action are told in the present tense.It reminded me of a movie actor who occasionally turns to the camera to address the viewers directly; I found this Ferris Bueller-like narrative technique very confusing and jarring. Strangely, Alexey Pehov abandons this technique later on in the novel, but that only reinforces the impression that this novel could have benefited from more careful editing. (Still, I didn’t mind when the present tense interruptions ended, because imagining a thief called Shadow Harold as a mix between Vlad Taltos and Ferris Bueller was giving me spectacular headaches and didn’t help me get immersed in the novel at all.)

There are some original ideas and nice city descriptions in Shadow Prowler, and the plot moves along at a pleasantly fast pace, but to balance out those few positives, the dark passages in the novel are unconvincing, the humor is mostly juvenile and predictable, the action scenes just aren’t exciting, and the characters are mostly flat stereotypes. There’s a goblin court jester who is initially just plain annoying, but who is obviously being set up for a more meaningful role later on (Robin Hobb‘s Fool, anyone?). The elven princess Miralissa is the only important female character in the otherwise all-male cast, so obviously the male characters have to point out her feminine charms several times.

lost all interest in Shadow Prowler about 100 pages from the end, started skimming pages to see if could at least get to the end, and finally gave up completely about 50 pages out, because I realized this is only the first book in a trilogy and nothing could convince me to read the sequels. People who pick this up because it was translated by Andrew Bromfield (who also translated Sergei Lukyanenko’s books) will be sorely disappointed.

~Stefan Raets


fantasy book reviews Alexey Pehov The Chronicles of Siala 1. Shadow ProwlerI enjoyed Alexey Pehov’s Shadow Prowler very much, but I would not recommend it to everyone. Obviously, our own Stefan didn’t like it (see below), but I have some specific reasons why I did. I’ll do my best to explain so that you, dear reader, can decide whether or not Shadow Prowler is for you.

First let me mention that the author, Alexey Pehov, is Russian and that Shadow Prowler has been beautifully translated by Andrew Bromfield (he also did the Nightwatch series). I think the translation played a role in some of the quirkiness of the descriptions and names.

Shadow Harold is a master thief who lives from contract to contract in the capital city of Avendoom. The story truly starts when Harold, somewhat unwillingly, takes a contract of the highest importance. The greatest of thieves has been tasked with obtaining an item from an impossible location. A nameless wizard is building a force just beyond a weakening magical barrier. The item Harold must retrieve is the one thing that may be able to keep the evil army at bay.

Harold is joined by a coalition of races who deem it in their best interest to assist him. Pehov took classical races and gave them his individual style. There are shamanistic Dark Elves, beardless Dwarves, hyper-active Goblins, and Wizards prone to colossal failure. I found each character charming, and they all hinted at more depth to come in later books.

Shadow Prowler is classic epic high fantasy which uses common fantasy characters — elfin princesses, cantankerous dwarves, burly warriors, and even a selection of enigmatic wizards. This fact alone will be enough to turn off some readers. Add in the fact that they are on a quest for a unique magical item in order to stop a faceless evil wizard and his army, and that just might be all you need to know to give Shadow Prowler a pass (see Stefan’s review below for his opinion). I, however, enjoyed how Pehov turned these classic themes into an enjoyable story with its own unique personality. My biggest complaint is that most of the story is spent getting to know the characters and in preparation for the quest, so I was disappointed that Shadow Prowler ends not long after the actual journey begins.

By the way, Shadow Prowler has an audio version brought to you buy the most excellent Brilliance Audio. Brilliance has a standard of production that’s very high, and Shadow Prowler is no exception. It’s read to you by the voice talents of Louisville, KY native MacLeod Andrews. Macleod’s smooth baritone voice gives the appropriate depth to Shadow Harold’s character. (The majority of the story is dictated by Harold, so it’s so important that the voice actor reading the book fits the main character so well.) As with all the Brilliance Audio books I’ve listened to, Shadow Prowler is not so much read to you as it is performed to you, and for those of you into audiobooks, you know exactly the difference I’m talking about. I can actually imagine MacLeod waving his arms when voicing the goblin jester. There are moments when MacLeod’s accent feels a little overdone, but with a book full  of many different  characters, and only one voice actor, I’ll cut him some slack. If you decide to read Shadow Prowler, I would highly recommend the audio version.

~Justin Blazier


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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

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4 comments

  1. I think I read the first few pages of this one and it was just bad, bad writing. Cool cover, though.

  2. I agree, the cover is beautiful.

  3. Any reference to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland gets bonus points in my book! This review? Five stars!

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