Shadowless by Randall McNally is a debut book that touches upon quite a few genres such as epic fantasy, dark fantasy & godpunk to name a few. The story is a bit hard to describe because of the unique way the author has written it. For me, the cover was certainly striking and the blurb while being so vague (which after reading the book, I completely understand why) still drew me in and this was the first book in my lot with which I decided to start SPFBO 2019.
Shadowless is a debut that is strikingly original in scope, execution and plot. I loved how Randall McNally presented a world that while alien, struck a chord in my mind.
The story is set on a huge continent called the Northern Realms, which is further divided into thirteen realms who have their own rules and ways of dominion. The biggest shocking aspect of the series is the presence of the gods and their copulative meddling in all but one of the realms. As described in the book, there was a civil war among the gods and all the female gods are dead. Thus the male gods from time to time, take a human guise and impregnate females. Who upon birthing the godling children die. These godlings have a special characteristic that they don’t have any shadows and hence the title. They also share a bit of the specific god’s powers. What’s also cruel is that these same gods then harvest their children by killing and getting their power back (with interest). This sadistic cycle has been ongoing for many centuries.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on in the background. To add to that, the author inserts another twist by having twenty chapters. Plus each chapter has its own POV Shadowless narrator, this makes it a grand epic storyline. As we get 20 characters whom get to follow and know more about in each chapter, before the author whisks us to the next Shadowless godling in a different region and time period. This effect can be a bit disorienting in the first few chapters but pretty soon, you get the hang of things and start discovering minute ties within chapters. The biggest draw for me was trying to figure out what was the actual chronological timeline as a couple of chapters mention events which we later find out have occurred in the past. There’s also a central druid/wizard character who makes appearances in a few chapters before making a bow in his own. Lastly towards the end we get a strong culmination of several character and events which leave us with a terrifically action-packed climax which also heralds the start of a new war on the gods.
The author has to be lauded for his worldbuilding skills as he showcases each of the thirteen different realms and the magic system that prevails throughout the story. The magic system is of the understated sorts as we along with the characters face a similar amount of confusion in trying to figure it out. The Gods are also alien, hugely powerful and very Greek in their dealings with the inhabitants of the Northern Realms. This book strongly gives a Clash Of The Titans vibe as demigod children are forced to hide from or fight back against their immortal fathers. The gods often rape their human mothers so they can birth the godlings (who also receive a portion of the god’s power). With each godling, the longer they live, the more powerful they get. Hence if the gods kill them after a while, they get an interest on their portion that was given to the godling. I thought this was a very well thought and decidedly dark area of the book. The author takes care to never showcase any rape on the pages and it is only hinted at.
We also get a wide variety of characters, the warrior child who’s fated to be the Shadowmancer. A demigod herbalist who might not be as silly as he seems. A child who can harness the power of weather and who feels rage like none other. The priest who’s trying to helps all the shadowless. A brother-sister duo who take on slavery as they seek their future and many more such intriguing characters who make up the Shadowless. With each chapter, we are thrust into the life of a new Shadowless godling both heroic and horrible. These characters are very intriguing and there were a few that I couldn’t get enough of and I hope the author gives us more in the sequels.
With regards to any drawbacks, we have to keep in mind, this is a big book. The pace of the story fluctuates from chapter to chapter and many might feel a sense of disorientation as the reader is uprooted and inserted into a whole new angle each time. For those who don’t like the darker bent of fantasy or those who like their stories with a lot of action might not find this debut entirely to their liking. The dialogue also isn’t the most striking but definitely conveys the needed emotions.
Shadowless is a debut that is strikingly original in scope, execution and plot. I loved how Randall McNally presented a world that while alien, struck a chord in my mind. Shadowless is the bastard child of Clash Of The Titans and Rob J. Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy but unlike its titular characters, it is entirely welcome and utterly fantastic.
This review was written by Mihir Wanchoo and featured in Fantasy Book Critic.
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