The Shadow Casket by Chris Wooding
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 832 pages
Published: 16th February 2023, Gollancz
“Heroes don’t have to fight. They don’t even have to be the best at anything. So what do they do? They keep going.”
Three years have passed since the events in The Ember Blade. Aren and the rest of the Dawnwardens hoped for a spark that ignited a flame of revolution, but the fire never caught. Instead, the rebels have left southern Ossia and journeyed north into the highlands, home of the Fell people, to strike an alliance. But treachery lurks around every corner. New dreadknights threaten the land. And a hidden, powerful artifact, the Shadow Casket, could shift the balance of power if claimed. Aren, Fen, Grub, Mara, and a host of new characters must band together to uncover a horrifying act of oppression if they want a chance at uniting the Fell clans and turning the tables on the Krodan imperialists.
“Feelings may be the enemy of intellect, but they are also its engine, and it’s a fool that wishes them away.”
Much like in The Ember Blade, one of The Shadow Casket’s strongest aspects is its characters. Wooding has developed this cast remarkably well, giving ample time to each POV, ensuring consequences that hit hard. Each character has different motivations and fallacies, and their flaws and decisions create wonderful and unpredictable chaos. One of the biggest surprises is how much I enjoyed reading one of the most hated characters from the last book, Overwatchman Klyssen; he’s a character you love to despise, but come to understand. Klyssen’s story reminded me of Abercrombie’s Sand dan Glokta: evil, but relatable.
Another aspect of the story that had me up late reading each night was how many surprise bombshells there were. There were some excellent twists, and devastating losses. None of it would have worked so well if I hadn’t been attached to so many of these wonderful characters. Though this is a long book, over 800 pages, at no point did I feel there was filler – every chapter propelled the story forward, further developed the cast, and built itself up for the next explosive set piece.
The Ember Blade can be separated into three acts: the camp, the road journey, and the heist finale. The Shadow Casket can also be divided into a similar structure. I won’t spoil what they are, but it gave the book a naturally progressive feel. The action is paced beautifully; Wooding has created some breathtaking environments to play in. During one sequence, it felt like we were treading into horror territory, and I have a sense that we’ll lean more into that theme in the next chapter of the Darkwater Legacy.
“The cogs of history were greased with the blood of sacrifices; it dripped from their teeth. Without it, they didn’t move.”
When I first reviewed The Ember Blade, I said it was everything I could possibly want in an epic fantasy novel. The Shadow Casket continues this tradition. It is full of action, heart, humor, and an expansive cast of endearing characters that I didn’t want to leave behind. One of my favorite reads of the year.