Review of STANDS A SHADOW by Col Buchanan
THE HEART OF THE WORLD
TOR, November 2011
The Empire of Mann has expanded from its humble beginnings to a globe-straddling monster. Only a few islands, the Free Ports, led by Khos, and the mysterious Alhaz Caliphate stand between the empire and complete control of the world. Khos has been under siege for decades, but now Mann, led by its Holy Matriarch herself, brings a second, larger army to attack the capital of Khos from behind.
Conquering an entire world generates enemies, and the Matriarch has made many--including some within the army she leads. Aging assassin Ash has sworn to destroy her although doing so goes against everything his band of assassins stands for. Imperial ambassador Che has been given the task of killing the Matriarch should she falter from her task... and wonders if he can kill her even if she doesn't. And Khos itself can still raise formidable armies in its defense, although it is outmanned and outgunned by the vast forces the Empire can throw into the conflict.
Author Col Buchanan (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of fantasy by Buchanan) continues the HEART OF THE WORLD series he began with FARLANDER in an action-packed adventure. Ash has aged significantly with the losses he suffered in the earlier book, and with the hardship he faces as he follows the army of Mann looking for a chance to kill the Matriarch. Che becomes a more significant player as he's put in an impossible situation... however the invasion turns out, he is doomed. In addition to further developing characters he established in FARLANDER, Buchanan gives us intriguing and damaged new players... a convicted killer freed to fight for Khos, an ex-prostitute now serving as a medic, the aging general of the Empire of Mann... to weave a story that shows the war from multiple vantagepoints.
When I read FARLANDER, I was impressed by the world-building and Buchanan's strong potential. With STANDS A SHADOW, Buchanan has come a long way toward delivering on that potential. I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the hopping viewpoint style of writing that has become standard in epic fantasy, but Buchanan, like George R. R. Martin makes it work. I liked that he made the Matriarch, who was one-dimensional in FARLANDER a more complex and interesting character here. Overall, STANDS A SHADOW is a strong novel, one that I had a hard time putting down.
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