The Shadow of What Was Lost is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for years. Islington is an author highly recommended not only to Sanderson fans but by Sanderson himself, so I picked it up on Kindle when it was still self-published and ended up purchasing physical copies of the entire Licanius trilogy before ever reading the first page. Not the smartest way to buy your books, I grant you, but it worked out this time! The Shadow of What Was Lost is a throwback to classic fantasy in the very best way. There’s a brightness and coziness to it even when the plot goes in dark directions. The characters and tropes are comfortably familiar without ever feeling derivative or tired. Best of all, Islington manages to take these tropes and characters and do some shockingly original things with them. I’ve heard this trilogy called ambitious and risky and, by the end of this first book, I could definitely see some of that ambition.
All that I wanted, I received
All that I dreamed, I achieved
All that I feared, I conquered
All that I hated, I destroyed
All that I loved, I saved
And so, I lay down my head weary with despair, for;
All that I needed, I lost.
Our main characters, Davian, Wirr, Asha, and Caeden, seem incredibly reminiscent of the main cast of characters from the Wheel of Time series at first glance. However, as I spent more time with them I came to realize that there was a depth of character to each of them that I found lacking in the (admittedly few) Wheel of Time novels I’ve read. I also found them all far less obnoxious than their Robert Jordan counterparts. Each of them felt real and likable and refreshingly honest. I could see myself befriending every single one of them, and would be hard-pressed to name any of them my most or least favorite.
“You can put your trust in something that’s obvious, that’s measurable or predictable – but that’s not faith. Nor is believing in something that gives you no pause for doubt, no reason or desire to question. Faith is something more than that. By definition, it cannot have proof as its foundation.”
While Islington did a wonderful job on his characterizations, I found his true strength to be his lore and world-building. He gives us just enough to maintain our interest without ever inundating us with too much information to process at one time. I was always intrigued by each new bit of information, and was impressed by the fact that its delivery did nothing to distract or detract from the plot, instead adding a layer of depth and richness that was a great benefit to the story. I’m fascinated by the religious undertones of and the philosophical questions raised in this book, especially considering that these mimic Christianity in some ways. Honestly, any scene that leaned more toward deep discussion instead of action tended to be among my favorites in the book. I highlighted and bookmarked like a madwoman. For instance, I absolutely adore the following piece of poetry from the book, which brought to my mind the fall of Lucifer as told in the Old Testament (in Isaiah 14:12-21). Here is what Islington wrote:
Hail, king of traitors!
We who knew you mourn what was lost.
Only a shadow remains:
A whisper where once a shout,
A pond where once an ocean,
A flickering candle where once the sun itself.
Hail, king of corruption!
We who serve you despair for what is to come.
You will break the Oath,
You will shatter the Path,
You will sing the Song of Days as a dirge.
Your people will weep tears of ice and blood
And only the fallen will know peace.
I have nothing but good things to say about The Shadow of What Was Lost. The only reason it wasn’t a 5 star reading experience for me is that I found myself easily distracted from reading it and had no problem putting it aside to do something else. This actually says more about my current reading mood and the busy season of life in which I find myself than it does the book. I think this is the type of book that will greatly benefit from being reread, which I can absolutely see myself doing in the future. Thankfully, I had a couple of amazing friends (Petrik and TS) to chat with about this book while I was reading, which made the experience a lot of fun. I can say without hesitation that I’m invested in this story and can’t wait to see where Islington takes this trilogy. It’s refreshing to know that there is a fantasy trilogy out there that balances classic with complex and comfortable with original, and that said trilogy is actually finished. And I plan to continue my journey with Licanius soon.