Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: The Conqueror's Shadow, by Ari Marmell

Note: In case it's not clear in the body of the review, I did not finish this book. It has been suggested (via anonymous comment, don't you love the internet?) that one should not share their thoughts on an unfinished book. Fair enough opinion. But for me, personally, reading why someone didn't like or finish a book is just as informative as reading why someone loved a book. I rarely finish books I am not enjoying, and if I didn't comment on them for that reason this blog would be severely unbalanced. So the post is staying. Advance apologies for anyone who gets upset. End note

So like many, many others I read Mieville's Kraken. I don't have any thoughts on that one that others (many, many others) have not posted, so I don't think I'll add another review to the teeming pile. Let's just say that overall I enjoyed it but upon completion my brain felt like it had run a marathon. I decided to read something light and easy to recover.

And The Conqueror's Shadow seemed like it would fit that bill. Except that I barely made it a quarter of the way in before I gave up and found something else to read.

What happened? My suspension of belief is what happened. You know, that ability to believe what ever outlandishness the author is selling you in order to enjoy the story. I've been reading pretty much exclusive sci-fi and fantasy since I was nine years old. I thought my suspension of disbelief was made out of the same stuff as Wolverine's bones. Unbreakable.

Talking dragons? Sure. Secret world of magic? Ok. Zombie plague? Why the hell not? I mean come on, I just read a book about a god-Kraken and my biggest issue was an excess of wordplay, not the idea of a missing squid heralding the end of the world.
But I just couldn't get my head to accept the premise of The Conqueror's Shadow long enough to enjoy it.

You see, there's this evil dark lord character, Corvus. The Scourge of the East or some such. He wants to rule the kingdom and devoted a great deal of effort to the cause, recruiting an army of orcs and goblins to do his bidding. Cities fall, countless innocent people are murdered, you know the drill.
Then something goes wrong, he nabs a young, pretty hostage and abandons his army. Fast forward a whole bunch of years and he's living the quite life on a little farm with the hostage, who's now his loving wife.

Corvus is now a loving father and doting husband and all round nice guy. And here's where the book lost me. I just couldn't buy it. This guy caused countless people untold suffering, and all in all he seems pretty ok with it.

The premise of this book really intrigued me. A now retired dark lord has to return to his old ways to save the land from a new rising evil. I was expecting a kick ass anti hero. Not necessarily haunted by his past, but at least affected by it. Something akin to Lucifer from Gaiman's Sandman series. But honestly, Corvus does not read like an anti-hero. He reads like a hero-hero, and if you didn't already know about the things he'd done you wouldn't suspect it for a second. I'm sorry, but if you were responsible for the fall of a whole bunch of cities and the deaths of thousands of people, you don't get to be a hero-hero. It's a deal breaker.

It's as though the author was worried the reader wouldn't be able to sympathise with an evil mass murderer, so he goes too far in the other direction to make us like him. Oh, he didn't want to kill all those people, it was a necessary evil and so on. Honestly, it made me lose respect for Corvus. If he had have stood behind the things he'd done it would have made for an interesting and unique perspective. The fact that he was such a nice guy made me dislike more, and above all I just couldn't believe it.

So, I stopped reading. Which means that as the book progresses Corvus might have dropped the nice guy facade, I don't know. If he does, feel free to tell me in the comments and I might give the book enough shot. Because it was written well enough, with a whole bunch of genuinely funny one-liners. And if your suspension of disbelief can handle it you may well get more out of this one than I did.

I bought this book.


  1. For my part, I do recommend actually finishing the book. From where you say you set it aside, the story's a quick and satisfying read from there on out. Also, and at a bare minimum, finishing it would give you a chance to reassess your sense of the character in-context, from "back to front" as it were.

    I enjoyed it overall, but frankly, the sequel -- Warlord's Legacy -- is the superior novel. In fact, if I had to choose between having you finish the first but not giving the second a look, or skipping straight to the sequel, I'd choose the latter; or almost would, if not for certain story developments (such as, you know, the whole climax thing).

  2. If you'd bothered to finish the novel, you'd know that Corvis (not Corvus, as you call him earlier in this article) is not the clean-cut good guy you seem to think this anti-hero, The Terror of the East, is.
    Also, I have to question the veracity of a "book review" in which the reviewer openly admits that they quit reading the book only a quarter of the way through. Go back and finish the whole book, then do a real review of the book. This review is hollow at best.

  3. Anonymous 1:

    I had considered skipping to the sequel, as I'd heard it is a darker book than its predecessor. I think I will give this one another try in the future, possibly when I am in a less critical frame of mind.

    Anonymous 2:

    "Also, I have to question the veracity of a
    "book review" in which the reviewer openly admits that they quit reading the book only a quarter of the way through."

    Would you prefer I didn't mention that fact? Or that I didn't comment of the book at all? My only aim for this blog is to share my own honest opinion, and I feel I've done that here. I'm sorry if this upsets you.

  4. While I would generally agree that an unfinished book and a critical review are poor companions, I can certainly see the point in mentioning why a book was not finished, especially if those reasons are not disguised as overall flaws. I haven't read The Conqueror's Shadow (though the premise did sound interesting to me for all the reasons mentioned), but the review makes it clear that its opinion is only for the opening of the novel.

    As for suspension of disbelief, I think characters and setting are whole different ballgames.

    As a sidenote, anonymous #2, search the page for the word 'review,' if you would. It's not mentioned outside the comments and the note at the beginning. A professional review venue should not, no doubt, be running pieces without finishing the text. A blog - essentially, a reading journal where the content is at the discretion of the author - can do however many impressions pieces as it desires.