The Light of Burning Shadows: Marked improvement

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Chris Evans A Darkness Forged in Fire 2. The Light of Burning ShadowsThe Light of Burning Shadows by Chris Evans

PLOT SUMMARY: As the human-dominated Calahrian Empire struggles to maintain its hold on power in the face of armed rebellion from within, the Iron Elves’ perilous quest to defeat the power-hungry elf witch, the Shadow Monarch, takes on greater urgency.

The Iron Elves, shunned by their own people for bearing the mark of the Shadow Monarch, and desperately wanting to forever erase this shame, became legendary for their prowess on the battlefield as the Calahrian Imperial Army’s elite shock troops. But when their commanding officer, Konowa Swift Dragon, murdered the Viceroy of Elfkyna, he was exiled, and these brave elves were banished to a remote desert outpost, doomed and leaderless, their honor in tatters.

Recalled to duty to reform his regiment from the dregs of the Imperial Army, Konowa thwarted the plans of the Shadow Monarch at the Battle of Luuguth Jor — ensuring that the fabled Red Star, a source of great natural energy, did not fall into Her hands. Now Konowa must cross storm-tossed seas to seek out the lost elves and the prophesied return of another Star somewhere in a desert wasteland roiling with mysterious power, infernos of swirling magic, and legends brought back to life in new and terrible ways.
And the fate of every living creature will come to depend on a small band of ragged and desperate soldiers, whose very loyalty to the Empire they have sworn to serve is no longer certain…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over thirty-two chapters. Also includes a map, a glossary, and an issue of the Imperial Weekly Herald that recaps events from the first book. Narration is in the third-person alternating mainly between Konowa Swift Dragon and Alwyn Renwar, as well as a few minor viewpoints including Visyna Tekoy. The Light of Burning Shadows is the second volume in The Iron Elves series after A Darkness Forged In Fire, which I would recommend reading first. The Light of Burning Shadows ends on a cliffhanger.

July 28, 2009 marks the US Hardcover publication of The Light of Burning Shadows via Pocket Books The UK edition was released August, 6 2009 via Simon & Schuster. Jacket art and design by Alan Dingman.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: The Light of Burning Shadows suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessor including thin characterization, shallow world building, and a straightforward plot that is basically a rehash of the first book — several different factions converging on a fallen star, this time the Jewel of the Desert. Yet for all of its shortcomings, I really enjoyed reading The Light of Burning Shadows and felt that it was a much stronger effort than A Darkness Forged in Fire.

For one, the writing is sharper with cleaner prose and pacing that is even more electric than the first book. Evans also exhibits better command of the story, including the management of the novel’s different subplots and the execution of some solid narrative twists. Even better, The Light of Burning Shadows is not plagued with unnecessary/ineffectual subplots like its predecessor, and instead focuses on what really matters such as Konowa finding the original Iron Elves, the Jewel of the Desert, the Blood Oath, and the surfacing of a dark power in Kaman Rhal that rivals the Shadow Monarch. Plus, the ending is superb and offers a ton of exciting and interesting avenues to explore in the next volume. On the other hand, the plot is still pretty simple, a lot of questions remain unanswered — Who or what is Rallie Synjyn? — and some of the novel’s climatic moments are easy to predict.

Character-wise, the cast and their relationship to one another remain underdeveloped, but Chirs Evans does possess the ability to give his characters their own unique voice and personality as evidenced by the dwarf Yimt Arkhorn who is by far my favorite character in the series. This time around though, I was really surprised by Alwyn Renwar — one of my least favorite characters from A Darkness Forged in Fire — who undergoes some major changes and really emerges as the main protagonist in the book, even overshadowing Konowa Swift Dragon. Prince Tykkin also surprised me some and I loved the banter between Yimt and his squadron — Alwyn, Hrem, Scolly, Teeter, Inkermon, Zwitty — as well as whenever the three women in Konowa’s life (mother Chayi Red Owl, love interest Visyna Tekoy, and scribe Rallie) got together.

Surprisingly, the military aspects — one of the strengths, and a personal favorite of mine, in the first book — is noticeably lacking in The Light of Burning Shadows compared to A Darkness Forged in Fire. Evans still explores certain facets like the bond formed between soldiers and whatnot, but for the most part the military angle is overshadowed by all of the magic — frost fire, sarka har, the stars, drakarri, Kaman Rhal, the Blood Oath, etc. — found in the book. Fortunately, the magic is creative and really exciting, so this wasn’t an issue for me.

Humor is still retained in the new book, but I didn’t find it as funny as A Darkness Forged in Fire. The flora/fauna is also not as imaginative while the animal characters take a backseat, apart from Jir and the squirrel which is really Konowa’s father.

In addition to all of the novel’s improvements, I would say the real key to enjoying The Light of Burning Shadows — and its predecessor — is understanding what kind of fantasy the book is. In other words, Chris Evans is not another Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, or Steven Erikson so don’t expect doorstopper volumes full of in-depth world building, complex plotting, or deep characterization. Instead, the author writes more lighter-fared, family-friendly fantasy full of nonstop action and adventure that should appeal to fans of Terry Brooks, Jennifer Roberson, and R.A. Salvatore. I also think fans of James Clemens and Alan Campbell could enjoy the series even though the books are not as dark.

In the end, the second book of the Iron Elves continues to suffer from many of the same problems as A Darkness Forged in Fire, but with improved writing, better execution, an action-packed story, characters that have evolved, and a thrilling finish that will leave readers wanting more, The Light of Burning Shadows is a marked improvement over the debut, and a highly entertaining fantasy that should continue making a name for Chris Evans.

~Robert Thompson


fantasy book review Chris Evans A Darkness Forged in Fire 2. The Light of Burning ShadowsIn this second installment in The Iron Elves series, Konowa Swift Dragon has convinced Prince Tykkin that he needs to reclaim the original Iron Elves who were dispatched across the ocean and stationed at the backside of beyond when Konowa was originally dismissed after murdering the first Viceroy. The prince agrees, but mostly because he’s heard rumors of another Star reading to appear in the Hasshugeb Expanse where the Iron Elves are stationed — which just happens to be the rumored location of the fabled Lost Library of Kaman Rhal. So, the Iron Elves set off on another adventure to find the new star and keep it from the Shadow Monarch, but in the desert they encounter another ancient force which is bent on finding the new Star and bending it to a different, darker purpose.

All the seeds planted in A Darkness Forged in Fire have definitely grown into fruition here. The action in The Light of Burning Shadows picks up shortly after the end of the first volume and the reader is quickly swept away into the story once again. Evans sets a swift pace, and this book centers more on the characters, with slightly less military action than the first volume. The characters are where Chris Evans really shines, especially with the attention paid to the ordinary soldiers in the regiment — not just the commanders. The relationship between dwarf Sgt. Yimt Arkhorn and Private Alwyn Renwar (who lost his leg at the battle in Luuguth Jor and has a new one fashioned for him from living wood by elven magic) is particularly well written. Alwyn is a main character in this installment, as he struggles to deal with the effects of the curse and his ability to see the Darkly Departed — the shades of fallen Iron Elves who still protect their regiment.

The main fight in this book isn’t between the Iron Elves and the Shadow Monarch, but against this new power coming from the desert. This creates a fresh take on what is essentially the same quest as in the last book: capture the Star, break the curse. The new villain brings political machinations to the forefront, which allows many of the characters to grow and develop. Evans writes with a brilliant evocative pose that captures the pride of this cursed regiment:

They might be doomed, damned, and buggered for all eternity, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t sparkle like a diamond in the sun and grin like a skull in the moonlight on their way to oblivion.

There were many moments in The Light of Burning Shadows that had me laughing and there were a few shocking twists — one in particular made me go back and read it again just to verify that I had actually read it correctly. Add in fast-paced action, intriguing characters, tight plotting, the addition of a map and a glossary, and you’ve got a book that’s nearly pitch perfect in every way.

I can’t remember the last time I slammed a book shut in frustration at the end — because I was going to have to wait a year for the next installment. I don’t want to wait to find out what happens next for the cursed Iron Elves, bound by an oath to a dark magic that ties them even after this life. Mr. Evans, please please, please write quickly!

~Ruth Arnell


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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