Cover illustration by: Micah Epstein
Of Shadow and Sea by Will Wight
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Elder Empire: Shadow (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 406 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 30th December 2014 by Hidden Gnome Publishing (Indie)
An incredible start to an assassin high fantasy trilogy with a strong potential to be even better than Cradle.
Will Wight is mostly famous—and highly praised—for his Cradle series. It is quite likely that it’s by far his best-selling series, and that won’t be a surprise because it is truly an addictive and entertaining series to read with insanely positive average ratings on both Amazon and Goodreads. I have, however, always been equally fascinated by this parallel-trilogies of his, The Elder Empire: Sea and The Elder Empire: Shadow. It’s such an interesting concept to have a parallel series with different main protagonists that clash against each other, and I was curious to find out Wight’s execution of this concept. Now that I’ve read and was thoroughly impressed by Of Shadow and Sea, my curiosity has increased further.
“A Reader does not need the strength of a warrior, but the understanding of a poet.”
Shera is a Gardener—the black ops, pure assassins, and the knives in the dark—of the Consultant’s Guild. The Consultant’s Guild—previously and sometimes known as Am’haranai—is a guild specialized in mercenary spies and covert agents. In the Consultants Guild, there are five branches of Consultant: Shepherds, Architects, Masons, Gardener, and The Council of Architects. Shera’s role as a Gardener is to “remove weeds” by harvesting lives and obstacles using their Gardening Shears (dual-blades to harvest lives). The Consultant’s Guild has been a servant to the Aurelian Empire and the Emperor for over a thousand years, but the Emperor is dead now; the Emperor’s death sparks a horrible chain of events. The story in Of Shadow and Sea revolves around the hunt for the Heart of Nakothi, a cursed artifact that can raise a new Emperor; some forces want to use it and corrupt the Emperor to fit their purposes, Shera and the Consultant’s Guild seeks to prevent that from happening. To nail this story without sacrificing the characterizations, Wight juggles between two timelines. First, the flashback chapters that center on Shera’s past since she was 10 years old, and the second timeline is the present-day where Shera is 25 years old and already became a full-fledged Gardener. Although I did find some of the flashback chapters oddly placed in the second half of the novel, I must also admit that they enhanced my excitement to get back to the present day chapters without losing the intrigues of the secrets and character’s background contained in the past.
“Everyone agrees that it would be better if we were more charitable, more virtuous, nicer to our fellow man. But we don’t change. We advance, we make discoveries, but the basic nature of humanity remains the same throughout the centuries.”
I found Shera to be a compelling character as an assassin; my interest in reading her story was immediately sparked from her first chapter, and it never lets up throughout the whole book. Due to her detached personality and difficulty for empathy, she fits her role as an assassin extraordinarily well. When I was reading this book, it hit me that I haven’t read a lot of epic fantasy series that has a competent assassin as the main character. Shera isn’t like Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer (I LOVE Robin Hobb’s books and Fitz, but Fitz is probably the worst assassin I’ve ever come across in fiction), Shera truly has the talent for this role. Seriously, during the course of the novel, the only events guaranteed to piss her off is the lack of food or sleep; no judgment from me there. This doesn’t mean that she’s completely emotionless; we know from the narrative that something unknown has happened to her that transformed her into behaving that way, and because of this, every brief show of emotions she displayed fleshed out her character effectively. Plus, Shera’s relationships with her teammates—Meia and Lucan—and her Guild adds flavor to the story.
“I need you in a team because no one’s judgment is correct all of the time. Not even mine. We all need other eyes to see where we are blind.”
While it’s true that, for me, the story and characters are well-written, it was the world-building, magic system, and action sequences of this book that pleasantly surprised me more. I’ve talked about the Consultant’s Guild, its sub-branches, and Shera’s role as a Gardener, but there’s still so much more depth to the world-building and magic system here. And I’ve read only ONE book in these six books parallel series. Wight has provided plenty of sustenance for Readers to digest here; not only The Consultant’s Guild, we also have the Champion’s Guild, the Blackwatch, the Navigator’s Guild, and etc; each of them has their own respective sub-branches and specialties. Regarding abilities and magic, there’s Intent, the power of focused will that everyone possesses; when you use an object, you invest Intent into that object, and it makes the tool more effective with more usage. There’s also Soulbound that draws power from a Vessel—an awakened object, usually small, that provides the user with the abilities of an Elder or a Kameira. What’s an Elder? Let’s just say there are gigantic creatures to battle, too. I can’t possibly explain every single aspect of the world-building and magic system of this series without writing an essay; what I’ve mentioned so far have only scratched the surface, I haven’t even talked about the Reader, the sentient weapons, the monsters, and the island that’s seemingly made out of Elder’s body.
“Our skill is in the minds of our potential clients. The less they know about us, the more mysterious we are. The greater the mystery, the greater our imagined powers. We are strongest when we are unknown.”
Of Shadow and Sea is also an action-packed novel; almost the entirety of the second-half—flashback excluded—were battle after battle. Wight combines the world-building, magic system, and action sequences into his story incredibly well. Calder—the main character in Of Sea and Shadow—and his crew did appear as Shera’s opposition, and I really want to know things from his perspective now. Based on my experience of reading Of Shadow and Sea alone, I’m already shocked that not many readers praised this parallel-trilogies more. The first and second books of both trilogies were published before the first book of Cradle came out; they deserve the attention of high fantasy readers. Of Shadow and Sea is a wonderfully crafted assassin fantasy. I have no idea how reading Of Shadow and Sea first will affect my experience of reading Of Sea and Shadow, I’m going to find out immediately. If you’ve started Of Sea and Shadow before reading this one, there’s a very good chance you’re going to have a different opinion than me. Personally speaking, I think this one is already on par with some of the best installments in Cradle, I can’t wait to find out how the rest of the trilogy will go.
Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!
My Patrons: Alfred, Devin, Hamad, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas.