Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review: 'Shadows in the Sand' by Michael Diack

Athmane is a hunter; Faria, a craftsman. Bayoud is a soldier, and Mary a medic. Together they represent each of the four quarters of Nimar. When an ancient evil rears its ugly head the four friends are called upon to use their unique skills to defend the citizens of the isolated desert city. Potential salvation appears in the form of unexpected allies and the promise of a new home, but will it be too late for Nimar? And can the army of fearsome Sanghouls be stopped before they destroy Empyria itself?

Shadows in the Sand is the first tale in Michael Diack’s Empyria sequence. It’s full of good old classic fantasy tropes including (but not limited to) elves, dragons, mages, monsters and magic potions. There are plenty of action scenes which I thought could have been fleshed out a little more than they were, but overall I found it a fairly entertaining read. It sort of reminded me of Peter V Brett’s world in The Painted Man, what with the sand demons and all; and I do like a book with good monsters.
That said, there were a few things that niggled at me, namely some awkward grammar that occasionally tarnished my overall reading experience. I also felt that much of the dialogue was somewhat stilted and wooden, which meant that the characters didn’t come alive as well as they could have done. I would like to have seen some flashbacks incorporated into the story: we are often told that the four main characters grew up together yet never really see them interact in a way that would suggest this.

This leads me on to one more issue: I felt that the author spent too much time telling us things rather than showing us. As a result some of the dialogue seems slightly contrived; there are lots of descriptions that focus on using measurements rather than imagination to create a visual, and there are several paragraphs containing what might be referred to as ‘infodumps’. The prologue is an example of this, taking several pages to explain the history of Empyria to the reader in a very ‘history book’ fashion. This was probably the intended effect, but I felt that everything within the prologue could have been (and often was, in fact) worked into the narrative instead. On the other hand, the story has a very fast pace that mostly makes up for the occasional stilted conversation between characters.
The book is certainly not without its merits. Despite my seemingly long list of complaints I did enjoy reading the book and will no doubt check out the second and final instalment of the series when it’s released in December. I found the storyline interesting and the concept of the world and its history was nice, especially as the book gives you the sense that this history is about to repeat itself. I liked that the story was set in a desert and that it constantly reminds you of the hardships and dangers of everyday life in such a place.

I also really liked how the journeys/quests are set up for the sequel, with some of the characters going their separate ways. It’s good to know such classic plotlines never go out of fashion, though it’ll be interesting to see whether the author decides to challenge our expectations in Empyria #2. I’ll be interested to see how the story develops . . . I would also very much like to see the inclusion of more casual friendly banter between the main characters, more focus on the emotional impact of events on these characters, and also a bit more building of suspense during the moments leading up to the action. Also, more Jax. I like Jax.
One final comment: I loved the abundance of monsters. It really gives the book a good vintage fantasy feel when every few pages you’re running into fearsome sand-golems, giant scorpions, flesh-eating mermen and even the occasional colossal man-eating poison-spitting cobra. Pretty cool, eh?

My rating: 3/5
Click here to buy Shadows in the Sand on Amazon (Kindle only)

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