The cover blurb for SHADOWLESS poses the deeply ominous question “What if the gods themselves wanted you dead?” Pretty attention-grabbing right? Well, at the very least it makes you want to open up the book and find out more about these pesky gods and who they want dead. But then as you get deeper into this fantasy story about gods, half-god children, dragons, and all manner of mythical creatures, it evolves into a gripping journey that draws you in and leaves you feeling like you’ve read something very original and quite daring in the end.
I highly recommend SHADOWLESS for anyone who enjoys fantasy books with outstanding world-building, engaging characters, a brilliant magic system, and a sprinkle of ancient mythology.
The story is told in a somewhat unique way with each chapter telling a separate story with a different main character but the setting is the same place, called the Northern Realms. There’s also a feeling that although these stories tell very divergent tales, somehow they all relate to each other and may converge at some point near the end. And converge they ultimately do, into one of the more thrilling endings of a fantasy book that I’ve ever come across. So this isn’t a short-story collection as much as it is a continually shifting viewpoint novel that has a very clear direction and purpose if you have the patience to stick with it.
The background of the story is that there has been a civil war among the gods. As a result of that civil war, many of the gods were vanquished, including every last female god. This has put the gods’ very existence in peril since they now have no ability to procreate among their own kind. As a remedy to this, many of the gods have copulated with certain mortals and consequently, their half-human/half-god progeny now walk the world as Shadowless. The name Shadowless is in reference to the fact that because of their partial god parentage, they cast no shadow whatsoever.
Casting no shadow creates a myriad of problems. One of which is that these individuals are easy to identify by those who would destroy them, seeing them as horrific abominations who must be eradicated. These hunters of the Shadowless, known as Shadow Watchers, travel across the Northern Realms seeking those born from the gods. Where they find them they are under direct orders to take them out by the high priests of each realm.
The Shadowless themselves are both blessed and tortured by their god-like powers as they are either unable to fully control them, or they don’t understand the full extent of the devastation that they can unleash with a mere thought or flicker of body movement. It’s truly a harrowing life they lead as they are constantly on the run, hiding from the very gods who fathered them. You see, the gods have discovered that their mortal children can actually amplify their own powers as they get older and if they kill their Shadowless offspring after a time, they can become even stronger than they once were.
As each of the paths of these Shadowless are told, there is a definite sense that something has to give. Will the gods continue to run amok and use their half-mortal children as merely tools to increase their power, or will the Shadowless rise up and organize in an effort to claim their own identity and put a stop to their constant fear of being hunted and wiped out one by one?
I enjoyed SHADOWLESS a great deal. At first, I wasn’t too keen on the ever-changing viewpoint aspect of how the story was being told. But as the chapters unfolded, the stories themselves were so well-told and compelling, that I found myself gradually getting more comfortable with it. Part of this is also due to the fact that Randall McNally does some really exceptional world-building. I mean, this is a seriously cool setting that is populated by some incredibly imaginative creatures and gods.
Another thing that I liked about SHADOWLESS was the interesting concept of gods being able to increase their powers through a half-mortal host and then having to kill them to claim those new and improved capabilities. Such a fascinating way to approach a magic system and it was a most refreshing take that made me want to continue reading well into the early morning hours on a few occasions.
I’ve heard from some that the feel of the book hearkens back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology and I agree that’s a fairly accurate assessment based on my experience. At the same time I will say that Randall McNally doesn’t lean entirely on those influences, but instead incorporates them into an entirely original fantasy story that is both enjoyable and utterly readable all on its own. I highly recommend SHADOWLESS for anyone who enjoys fantasy books with outstanding world-building, engaging characters, a brilliant magic system, and a sprinkle of ancient mythology. But most of all, it should appeal to anyone who just enjoys a really intense and entertaining read regardless of genre.
This review was written by Nick Borrelli and featured in Out of this World Reviews.
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