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review 2015-08-17 15:01
Fitting Ending to a Sword and Sorcery Tour de Force
Shadow's Master - Jon Sprunk

Jon Sprunk has taken the readers of Shadow Saga on a wild ride. First, in Shadow's Son, there was the action-filled, pulse-pounding introduction of Caim the assassin, as he fought his way through the ancient city of Othir with a young woman named Josey in tow. In Shadow's Lure, the story morphed into an epic fantasy; Caim journeying north through war torn lands to undercover his past, while Empress Josephine (Josey) of the Nimean Empire fights to maintain her newly won crown. And in Shadow’s Master, the tale of these two star crossed lovers and their individual quests comes to a stunning conclusion.


As the finale begins, the war weary and emotional drained Caim is about to enter the far north (Arctic Circle-like setting), where the sun never shines, winter never ends, and the war-like clans bend their knees to the mysterious power of the Shadow realm. His confrontation with his Aunt Sybelle in the previous book has also opened his eyes to exactly who and what he is: the half-breed spawn of a human father and a Shadow mother, but the truth did not liberate him as he anticipated, because now he also knows his mother was not killed when he was a child, but has languished as a prisoner of her own father all these years. And so Caim squares his shoulders, sharpens his blades, and trudges ever onward, determined to confront the Shadow powers and rescue his mother, or die trying!


Fluttering along behind Caim is Kit the disembodied spirit who has watched over him since childhood. While their relationship was strictly platonic in Shadow’s Son, it rather quickly transformed into a steamy affair in book two, as Kit made known her desire to have a romantic relationship, demanding that Caim forget Josey and help her find a way to be together. But while she is absolutely sure of her feelings for him, the young assassin is not; his feelings for her and for Josey pulling him in opposite directions, and so Kit begins a desperately search for a way to be with her beloved in the flesh at last – no matter the cost!


Far to the south, Caim’s one time lover Empress Josephine has found her campaign into the northern marches of Nimean beset by immediate trouble. Brigands rape and pillage at will; her own nobles ignore these incursions in favor of waging personal crusades against rivals; and all her attempts to discover news of Caim continues to meet failure. With her former lover’s child growing in her womb and enemies circling around her, Josey attempts to set aside her fears and measure up to her illustrious ancestors, but even with old allies and new protectors aiding her, things look bleak, as an army of Shadow spawn begin their invasion of the Empire!


Make no mistake, Shadow’s Master is a classic quest novel. Caim’s quest is obviously one to rescue his mother and confront his mixed heritage. Josey’s begins as a mission to fight her way to the father of her unborn child, but soon turns into a personal mission to prove to herself that she is truly worthy of being Empress of the Nimean Empire. And Kit’s quest is simply to find a way to become real for Caim and make him love her as she loves him. Intermingled into all of this is Sprunk’s trademark sword and sorcery action with dazzling sword fighting and buckets of blood and gore; loads of back story about the Shadows: where they come from and why they are attempting to conquer the world; and a final conclusion to the trilogy, which might not tie up all the loose ends, but satisfactorily brings everything to a fitting ending.


There were a few elements of the story that didn’t measure up for me however, and I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least touch upon them for prospective readers of the series.


First, Caim’s interaction with other characters is almost non-existent in this one. Yeah, he does have three traveling companions: Aemon, Dray and Malig, but there really isn’t any camaraderie between them, nor do Aemon, Dray, and Malig grow into anything more than standard “red shirts.” Obviously, Caim’s constant guardian angel Kit is still floating around, but she deserves her own paragraph.


Kit. Oh, Kit. Where do I begin? I could mention how increasingly annoying she has become. The fact that she is so obsessed about having her feelings reciprocated – no matter the costs – has grown into stalker-like behavior. And the way she disappears for extended periods of time, leaving Caim in dangerous situations while she is off looking for a way to make him love her, didn’t put her in a good light. Honestly, I just could have done with less Bella Swan-like “We can’t be apart. You can’t leave me. Ever!” nonsense.


Third, Caim’s powers continue to grow. They even morph into vampire-like monstrosities where he begins to lose strength unless the shadows feed off death. While in past books Sprunk did mention Caim’s shadows descending into feeding frenzies, this whole vampire thing was so unexpected, so jarring, and so head-scratching that it distracted from th story more than added to it.


Fourth, the resolution of Caim’s quest to save his mother falls flat. There is all this build up to his arrival at Erebus, his confrontation with his grandfather, his reunion with his mother, and the final revelation of what the Shadow denizens are really after, but when each one materializes, they fizzle rather than sizzle, in my opinion anyway.


Lastly, the way the Caim-Josey-Kit love triangle ends is rather disappointing. Not how they pair off necessarily, because I felt that was inevitable, but the way it is done. Just left a lot to be desired.


The Shadow Saga has been quite the adventure. From Assassin’s Creed-like beginning to epic fantasy ending, Jon Sprunk steadily flexes his storytelling skills, crafting an action packed trilogy that will remind sword and sorcery lovers why they first fell in love with the genre. At least, it did for me, and I’m really hoping to see Caim return sometime in the near future.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/08/15/shadows-master-by-jon-sprunk
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review 2015-08-17 00:22
Epic Sword and Sorcery Story
Shadow's Lure - Jon Sprunk

In Caim of Shadow's Son , Jon Sprunk created an assassin worthy of standing beside the likes of Brent Weeks’ Kylar Stern of the Night Angel Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson’s Kelsier of Mistborn, and Michael J. Sullivan’s Royce Melborn of the Riyria series. His story quickly becoming a sword and sorcery delight, filled with non-stop action, intense fighting, shadow magic, and thrills galore. And as the fiendish fun of devious plots, personal tragedy, and long denied revenge converged to a satisfying ending, it was good to know that Shadow’s Lure was waiting to continue on with Caim’s story, as he heads off into the Northlands to uncover the truth about his mysterious past and leaves behind his new love Josey, who has been crowned Empress Josephine of the Nimean Empire.


Immediately upon beginning Lure, however, it becomes clear this book is going to be a different type of story. Yes, Caim the master assassin is still wielding his twin blades to devastating effect, but now, the frenetic pacing, which was the dominate trait of Shadow’s Son, is turned down several notches, while the world building and character development take much more prominent roles in the narrative. And when I say “character development,” I should say “characters,” because the narrative seamlessly shifts back and forth between four of them: Caim, Josey, Kit, and a vile villainess from the shadowlands.


Naturally, Caim’s part of the tale involves lots of fighting. His quest leading him into the teeth of a raging civil war in his childhood homeland. New companions and enemies appear in his life, entangling him in an epic battle to determine the fate of the land. One fight leads to another, (Each one amazingly choreographed and depicted by Mr. Sprunk, who seems to have a real knack for writing engaging and sensible combat.), but during the interludes, Caim also finds himself struggling with revelations about his heritage and wondering if he made the right decision in leaving his life in Othir and his growing relationship with Josey.


Meanwhile, back in Othir, Empress Josephine is dealing with troubles of her own, mainly political machinations. She has nobles who view her as nothing but a silly young woman; she has the Church of True Believers plotting to overthrow her; Othir’s populace is primed to revolt at any minute; enemies are invading Nimean from all directions; a mysterious assassin is trying to kill her; she has trusted counselors demanding that she take a husband to reinforce her position; she is pregnant with Caim’s baby; and she has no idea if her lover ever intends to return to her, or if there brief relationship meant nothing to him.


The third member of our evolving love triangle is Kit. This disembodied guardian alternated between nagging Caim in Shadow’s Son and aiding him, but exactly who and what she really is begins to be revealed here. Not only that, she plays a huge role in opening up the world of shadow for a reader’s view. Yet all the while, Kit’s main focus seems to be expressing her true feelings for Caim, as she completely befuddles him with her sudden shift from mocking friend to inflamed suitor.


Rounding out our main characters is Sybelle. This formidable denizen of the Shadow realm is the true power behind the forces seeking to overthrow Caim’s childhood home and swarm into the Nimean Empire. No matter her horrid evilness (because she is a nasty thing) she is far from one dimensional, and Jon Sprunk shows all her amazing characteristics: the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Through these four viewpoints, Sprunk weaves a most intoxicating epic fantasy, filled to brimming with plots within plots. All of them whispering the timeless themes of past and future, despair and hope, love and hate, vengeance and justice, good versus evil. It is dark. It is gritty. It is blood soaked. It is sword and sorcery to its core.


But . . . (Yeah, I set you up for the “But” guys.) there were some things about the story which did not work for me and caused it to receive a lower star rating than Shadow’s Son.


The least of these was the sudden infatuation of Kit for Caim, and our heroes confusion about his feelings for her and Josey. To me, the shift from Kit the mocking friend in book one to the enamored suitor in this story was too abrupt. There really wasn’t any hints that this was coming, so when Kit gets all hot and bothered, it was a bit of a weird shock that Caim was so torn about his love for both women, since he’d never seemed to have anything but a friendship with Kit up until this point.


A moderate issue for me was our heroes (Caim and Josey) always having the very best of luck. Josey bumbling from bad situation to worse situation almost constantly, but somehow squeaking by or being saved by the perfectly timed intervention of the absolute correct individual, gradually grew to a distraction and not a relief. And Caim himself – though wounded and unknown in this northern land – managing to attract ally after ally, becoming the leader of a rebellion, and easily learning to use powers it takes other lifetimes to master was a bit hard for me to swallow.


However, the Shadow villains were my biggest disappointment. While Sybelle was fascinating in many ways, she and the other villains never really grew into anything other than obstacles for Caim to overcome. With Mr. Sprunk actually developing their story, I expected some attempt to make them empathetic or, at least, explain their cruelty, but it never really materialized, as they remained Bad Guy #1, Bad Guy #2, et cetera.


Even with my dislikes noted, I’d like to encourage assassin lovers and sword and sorcery aficionados to pick up this very entertaining series. Where Shadow’s Son was an action tour de force, Shadow’s Lure begins the transformation of a simple assassin tale into a grand epic fantasy. Sure, it stumble a little along the way, but it never fails to entertain, keeping your pulse pounding with each swing of Caim’s deadly blades.


Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/08/14/shadows-lure-by-jon-sprunk
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review 2015-08-13 14:50
Storm and Steel by Jon Sprunk
Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth) - Jon Sprunk

You must read book one of this series or you will be totally lost. The book picks up shortly after book one ends with Horace, Alyra, and Jirom somehow ending up on all different sides of the politics. Horace finds his loyalties split and his lack of confidence is beginning to effect his Zoana and his ability to use it. I expected a little bit more out of Horace. Throughout much of the story he is just confused and ineffective.

The slave rebellion, led by Jirom and Emanon, is finally gaining ground. But they know that eventually they will have to face their friend Horace. No one is sure how this will end up, but other political powers are set on doing anything and sacrificing anyone to put the revolt down.

Alyra is another character that seemed confused throughout the story. I loved her dedication and how set in her beliefs she was in book one, but she's changed a lot. She rides the fence a lot more often now, while somehow still seeming to be set in her ways. Towards the end I got a glimpse of the book one Alyra coming back and I really hope that carries over into book three.

Once again, Jon Sprunk has given us a very epic tale. We have magic, strange creatures, politics, and empires are competing against each other. Loyalties are not always clear, and you can never be too sure who you friends are. There are epic battles that can destroy cities, and as an empire rises and falls again, I never really knew where it was going to take me next.

*This book was received in exchange for an honest review*

Source: hotofftheshelves.blogspot.com/2015/08/storm-and-steel-by-jon-sprunk-review.html
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review 2015-07-16 02:32
Shadow's Son - Jon Sprunk

After reading and enjoying the first two novels of Jon Sprunk’s Book of the Black Earth, I discovered that he had already completed a previous series: the Shadow Saga trilogy. Naturally, I had to give this assassin tale a try.


What I found in Shadow’s Son was a well-written tale, which masterfully interweaves intrigue, action, magic, and interesting characters as it propels itself forward through a fully realized sword-and-sorcery world at a breakneck pace.


The tale itself is set in the ancient city of Othir (think Rome); the Holy Church ruling all, dominating all aspects of life in this center of an ancient, world spanning empire. But within the shadows of this City of Light, an assassin with no loyalties and no conscious can make a fortune killing those the clergy and the remaining nobility deem unworthy to continue living. And Caim is just such a man.


At least, he was until his latest contract killing takes him into the home of a noble where – instead of a quick, clean assassination – Caim finds himself immersed in a web of lies; conspiracies of the powerful entangling him and turning him from the hunter into the prey. And, as he flounders in these unfamiliar waters, Caim discovers that his conscious might not be as dead as he thought, that his tragic past might hold the key to his continued survival, and that he must finally face what he truly is!


What I really loved about this book was the streamlined nature of the narrative. Jon Sprunk does an excellent job of getting to the point without unnecessary wordiness. No needless info dumps. No never-ending dialogue. No endless foreshadowing of future events. Nope, this story of Caim the assassin is in perpetual motion; Sprunk providing all pertinent information for the ongoing action in carefully measured doses before quickly immersing his readers back in the sword-and-sorcery narrative. A writing style that reminded me of several of my all-time favorite fantasy authors, such as Michael Moorcock and Glen Cook, as well as newer ones, such as Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks.


Now, was Shadow’s Son ultra-realistic? No, which could turn some readers off. Did it show signs of being the authors first novel? Well, naturally. Was there more than a few familiar assassin tropes included in the narrative? Absolutely. Did the characters sometimes make head-scratching decisions? I guess you could say that. Was the novel a fun, addictive read anyway? For me, at least, it definitely was.


My final opinion on this novel is simple: if – like me – you’re looking for a fun read, then you should definitely pick up Shadow’s Son. While the plot and characters don’t reinvent the fantasy assassin genre, I don’t Jon Sprunk was really aiming for that type of story. Instead, he seemed to be providing his readers with a sword-and-sorcery vehicle where they can forget about reality for a few hours and live the life of a fearless assassin slinking through the darkness in a magical, medieval-like city filled with known and unknown enemies. And in this, he is wildly successful. I personally found Shadow’s Son difficult to put down, devouring it as quickly as I could find time to read it, and I’d encourage others to pick this one up and try it as well. I really think you will be happy that you did.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/07/16/shadows-son-by-jon-sprunk
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review 2015-06-20 14:17
Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth) - Jon Sprunk

Blood and Iron was a fun sword and sorcery romp, built upon the foundations of a complex, magic-filled fantasy world. While some of the character development disappointed, the novel itself never failed to entertain, flashing glimmers of potential greatness. And in Storm and Steel, Jon Sprunk goes a long way in fulfilling that promise.

Two story lines develop in tandem throughout this novel. One is the continuing journey of the former slave Horace, who ascended to the halls of power in Blood and Iron through the revelation of a magical talent he never suspected he had. Now, his life is one of constant doubt, fueled by his own inner feelings of inadequacies: lack of control over his magic, lack of friends in a hostile court environment, lack of experience handling political situations and lack of understanding regarding his attraction for two very different women (Queen Byleth of Erugash and the western slave Alyra). The second is the tale of Horace’s friend Jirom. This black, homosexual ex-mercenary finds himself neck deep in a slave uprising against Queen Byleth; his every instinct warning him to escape this madness, but his heart demanding that he remain beside Emanon, the man with whom he shares a strong romantic bond, even if it puts him at odds with Horace himself.

For those that loved the immersion of Horace into Akeshian politics and its constant machination, this installment of The Book of the Black Earth will take a bit of getting use to. Here Jon Sprunk spends a great deal of time focusing on Jirom and the slave rebellion, developing the characters, showing their diverse motives, and laying out the growing conflict. A conflict that slowly draws in Horace and takes him away from the royal court, as Queen Byleth orders him to destroy this threat to her reign or find himself without her continued support. But even with that being the case, never fear, because there is still lots of shadowy subversions going on within the Queen’s court and outside of it. Inside, there is a rash of mysterious murders. Without, the Sun Cult priests (Those who escaped Horace’s wrath in book one and fled to neighboring city-state of Akeshia) have gathered allies, planning an invasion of Erugash to cast down Byleth and her puppet wizard. And lingering over everything is a growing sense that there is a diabolical presence pulling the strings of everyone, waiting patiently for the perfect time to reveal itself!

On the whole, this second installment of the series is a better book than its predecessor; Jon Sprunk evolving the characters, the world around them, and introducing a deeper, darker plot that has been simmering right below the surface unnoticed. Now, there really aren’t any black and white characters in the series, only gray. The “heroes” beginning to show moments of true humanity, where they doubt themselves, are callow, selfish even, or ruthlessness, while the “villains” have times of introspection, explaining the reason for their seemingly evil actions and unveiling the desires and plans which drive them forward, even when they wonder if these choices might be wrong. Meanwhile, the world around these people becomes much more diverse, as Akeshia herself is explored, and different members of this fascinating Babylonian/Egyptian-inspired society reveal themselves. And that “deeper, darker plot” is partially unveiled at the end of this novel, promising even higher stakes for Horace and Jirom going forward.

All in all, if you enjoyed Blood and Iron, you definitely need to put this novel on your reading list. Storm and Steel is a great chance to experience a good, old-fashioned, sword and sorcery tour de force; one that perfectly mixes a sweeping fantasy world with non-stop action. And just when you begin to believe that is all it is (As if that weren’t enough!), Jon Sprunk pulls the rug out from under you at the end, unveiling another twist in the tale that leaves you wanting more. For with Storm and Steel, the author has delivered the next stage in the evolution of The Book of the Black Earth, tantalizing readers with the prospects of what is to come.

I received this book from Pyr in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/06/17/storm-and-steel-by-jon-sprunk
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