Billed by SFX as "exactly what the fantasy genre needs", this book is a truly excellent example of how a basic fantasy novel concept can be turned into a masterpiece of believable and entertaining fiction. The plot begins with the main character, Poldarn, waking up in a puddle of mud surrounded by corpses, not knowing who he is, where he is, or anything of his past (let alone who the corpses beside him are). An almost cliched beginning these days, but instead of sending Poldarn off on some irrelevantly random quest, and discovering by the end of the book he's actually the heir to the throne of the kingdom currently held under the tyranny of an evil warlord, Parker sends Poldarn bumbling his way through the world in which he finds himself, and having to deal with the problems this presents.
This is done in a completely creditable manner, and although there is indeed a deeper plot afoot in the background, Poldarn only brushes past it from time to time, whilst in other chapters the reader is privy to what dangers could face him in the future (and looking for any subtle clues as to the character's identity). But perhaps the most memorable (and brilliant) aspect of this book is the way in which it has been written. Parker does not go in at all for describing the glorious countryside, or the long back-histories of irrelevant forests and towns, he tells it "like it is", with a nicely cynical narrative which effectively grounds the story into something resembling a true reality you can actually believe exists, rather than having to make an effort to suspend your disbelief. If there is some contrived factor, say, for example, a hay cart just outside Poldarn's window which he has to jump into later to escape some attack, he will remark on it rather than leave the reader groaning at the falsity; more importantly he will look at it and probably mutter to himself cynically about how a god of some sort must be enjoying seeing his hindquarters running into the sunset.
This refreshing tone in a fantasy book, and the light and easy manner in which it is told (contrasting to the more serious moments, thus increasing the intensity of those interludes), lead to "Shadow" being a totally accessible, and massively entertaining read, with many a plot twist and revelation right to the last chapter. Don't expect to have all revealed at the end, either; this is a trilogy, and Parker intends to do it properly, and keep the central factors in the book (Poldarn's loss of memory, coupled with the fragments of worrying story he hears about himself, and the mysterious confidence and panache he possesses with a sword) going to the final instalment. This is no bad thing, as I personally cannot wait for more of the same.
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