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In the Shadow of Swords by Val Gunn

Posted by travizzt on March 31, 2011

After unknowingly uncovering books that could change everything, the assassin Ciris Sarn is on the run for his life.

In the Shadow of Swords by Val Gunn

In the Shadow of Swords is the first book in the Tales of Ciris Sarn series. The sequels to In the Shadow of Swords do not have titles at this time. Val Gunn has written two other novels, a Civil War thriller titled Six Months to Live and another novel titled A Resonance of Shadows. In the Shadow of Swords was released February 2011 and was published by Errant Press.

After the assassination of a man named Hiril Altaïr by Ciris Sarn, the world of Mir’aj may change forever. Hiril was to deliver four books, but Sarn cut him down before finding sanctuary. However, after the assassination, Sarn find himself being hunted down by those who he works for after being unwilling to recover the books. The hunt takes him on a path of death and killings, just so he can remain alive. After hearing of her husbands murder, Marin Altaïr vows vengeance against the killer. As she pays her final respects to her slain husband, she is given the four books that he was carrying, along with learning who was responsible for her husband’s death, Ciris Sarn. She learns from the books that everything she once thought to be true, is now a lie. As she finds out more about the books, called The Books of Promise, she tries to track down Sarn. Unfortunately, because of the books in her possession, she’s became the target of many who would want such knowledge.

1) Exposition. The biggest problem that In the Shadow of Swords has is that nothing is explained throughly. The reader is tossed into the world with no background, no references, and no knowledge of anything. Names are thrown at the reader at such a constant rate that you quickly forget who is who. The same can be said with cities, continents, states, areas, etc. Most times, this isn’t noticeable. There are some novels that you can read without any knowledge of the surrounding world and still have all these references thrown at the reader, but still understand it. However, in this book, one can’t help but feel like an outsider looking in. There are so many references, along with an insane amount of background that In the Shadow of Swords almost feels like a sequel or a later book in a long running series. This isn’t a good thing when you are just starting a series. This wouldn’t have been so bad if there were just a few things that were left unexplained, not almost everything. Some novels can get away with this, but In the Shadow of Swords really draws your attention to it. Throughout the novel there are non-English italicized word are never really defined or explained. The only way to find out what they mean is by either using context clues or looking them up online. Unfortunately, most of the words are left undefinable. Some of them you may be able to figure out by context clues, but others will leave you totally in the dark. This isn’t a good thing when introducing a new world to new readers.
2) Pacing. The other issue with In the Shadow of Swords is that the pacing is all over the place. For the bulk of the novel, the pacing is fairly slow. It does work for this book and isn’t that much of a problem. Sure, there were times when the novel became a little too slow, but it was few and far between. However, while most of the novel is filled with slower scenes, there are quite a few times that the action and events pick up. This wouldn’t be a problem either, if it wasn’t for the suddenness of these quick, breakneck scenes. It also doesn’t help that these fast paced scenes are very hard to follow at times. It seems as through things are just happening to only help with moving the plot along. It also doesn’t help that these fast scenes really were boring because you couldn’t follow what was happening. If the pacing was a little more even and controlled, In the Shadow of Swords would have been a better read.

1) Style. The way that In the Shadow of Swords was written was interesting and enjoyable. Personally, I like dark stories and In the Shadow of Swords is definitely one of them. The characters aren’t your average ‘heroes’ and almost all of them have ulterior motives for what they want to accomplish. That isn’t saying that the characters aren’t likable, it’s just that they don’t act like your normal heroes. The story has a lot of dark elements to it. There was never a time where it felt too happy, instead it had a more realistic feel to it. Also, this is a gritty, nasty story. There is plenty of gory moments, along with some really disturbing images. The descriptions are great as well. Everything is described in such a way that you can easily picture what’s being described. All in all, the writing style for In the Shadow of Swords was great.
2) World. The world of Mir’aj really is interesting and makes you want to learn more about it. It’s a Middle Eastern-esque world that you don’t really see much of in fantasy. There is a lot to discover about Mir’aj. There’s political intrigue, varying customs, and a lot of other things to keep you wanting to know more. The settings were beautiful and felt almost realistic. It almost seemed like something you would see in a Middle Eastern village or city. It’s really a well thought out world with a lot to discover.

Side Notes:
1) Glossary/Index. It would have helped a lot of there was an index or glossary included in the back of the book to help keep track of people, places, and things.
2) Arabic. I did like the inclusion of the Arabic sayings for when someone is using ‘magic’. It really gave it an interesting twist and not something I expected.
3) Cover Art. The cover art for In the Shadow of Swords is basic and bland. I do like the font of the title, but aside from that there really isn’t anything else that will catch your eye for too long. It’s just too basic and unappealing. The colors are bland and there isn’t anything else to hold any interest. It just is a boring cover.

Overall: 3/5
Final Thoughts:
In the Shadow of Swords has a lot of things going for it, but also has a few problems that work against it. The story was interesting, but was hampered by the lack of exposition. Things weren’t really explained and there are a lot of references to various things that readers wouldn’t know. There just needed to be more background. The pacing was the other problem and it caused some unfortunate side-effects on the story as a whole. The pacing was all over the place and really needed to remain somewhat constant. To go from a slow scene to a rushed one was very jarring. This problem also hurt the development of the characters because there just wasn’t enough time to really get to know them. Thankfully, the writing style was great. I love dark stories and I felt right at home in this one. The descriptions were fantastic and really allowed you to visualize everything. Also, the world of Mir’aj is interesting. There’s a lot to learn and explore about the world, and it leaves you wondering about it. Overall, In the Shadow of Swords does what a you would want a first novel to do, hook your readers in, but it needs a lot of improvements to keep them. If you’re looking for a different type of fantasy novel, In the Shadow of Swords would be worth checking out.

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