Cobley borrows from the best, makes it his own, and brings us something wonderful.
The strength of his writing lies in the attention to detail. Locations are lovingly sculpted, dialogue is fresh and natural, whilst still retaining the neccessary idioms of fantasy.
Like all the best fantasy books the Shadowkings series is at once utterly strange and strangely familiar. You have stumbled across ideas like these before, but you can't quite put your finger on where.
But then Cobley shifts gear and you realise you are in uncharted territory. At times it's more like being in some hallucinatory computer game than reading a book, the settings are so well realised.
If I had to point out a weakness it would be the amount of exposition, but in this latest volume that is thankfully brief, and slotted into place in the action, rather than interrupting the narrative. This is a failing of the form, rather than any inherent flaw in Cobley's skill (although I long for the day when someone finds a way around this).
It is a story of dark powers and how they never really go away; of mages and unlucky fools; of heroes and other worlds.
I find influences from manga; classic pulp sf; Buffy; Tolkien; Lovecraft; Babylon 5; Ellison; Spinrad; Blish; Asimov's Foundation; Dune; Gormenghast - all touched upon lightly to build something refreshingly dark and new.
The tragedy is that there isn't more from this writer. His short story collection "Iron Mosaic" shows the breadth of his interest, and his non-fiction writings pop up elsewhere from time to time.
They do say that good things are worth waiting for.
In this third volume of the Shadowkings trilogy, the author again continues to innovate. Books one and two dealt with the interesting premise that the "Final Battle" had been fought - and lost - by the forces of good. What followed was a dark tale of survivors struggling against an apparently triumphant evil God.
The first two books were good but ultimately flawed in that (of course) the good guys must win and the standard fantasy quest ensured that they would, making this not a new take on the genre but merely a prolonged sequence akin to the standard one in most fantasy where the hero fights the evil lord, almost loses but then comes back from the brink of despair/losing the final battle etc to triumph.
Book 3 is again a move in a new direction, setting the final book of the trilogy 300 years after 1+2. A bold move that gets 4 stars - but it doesn't *quite* work.
A host of new characters and skimming through of the complex plot mean this reads like a synopsis of a whole new trilogy rather than a book in its own right. Many of the characters are sketches with no motivation or depth, and the final sequence feels like it could have been so much better - the storming of the final castle is accomplished in two lines of text. Fair enough, Robert Jordan would have taken 6 novels to do the same, but this is taking narrative exposition to the opposite extreme.
Overall, this is a good read, but it could have been so much better.
on 8 July 2005
It is possible to read Shadowmasque as a stand alone novel. It doesnt read like a sequel although it is the third novel in the trilogy.Those of us who enjoyed the first two books will not be disappointed.
It starts with the real world; greed, politics and murder. The dark powers and plots are just greed on a larger scale.
A satisfyingly large cast of characters support a complex storyline. Better than most fantasy writers, Michael Cobley doesnt overlook the larger aspects of political/military planning.We see the experiences of individuals. We witness the mashalling of regiments and fleets. We overhear the political manoeuvrings as power shifts and events develop.
I dont want to post any spoilers but there are a number of excellent set-peice battles and mysterious dark magics, culminating in a grand, show-stopping finale.