Shadowfall, by James Clemens [Book Review]

Shadowfall was written by James Clemens in 2005, and is the first book of the Godslayer Chronicles. It follows three characters through the world of Myrillia. A goddess is killed and a young broken knight named Tylar, who was expelled from his order, is framed for the murder.  A girl named Dart is raped, and against all odds, is selected to be a Handmaiden of the oldest god in Myrillia.  Kathryn, the former bethrothed of Tylar, is named Castellan of Tashijan (the Shadowknights’ “home base”) by an unlikely new Warden who may be mixed up in some dark magic.

Speaking of magic: Clemens’ chosen system (and also Myrillia’s world economy) is based on the humours (in the Renaissance sense, meaning bodily liquids) of the gods.  that’s right: to gain magical power, you rub yourself, or an object, in a god’s blood, phlegm, pee, poo, sweat, tears, semen, menses, etc. The whole idea is simultaneously fascinating, because each of the nine humors has a magical effect, or Grace, and disgusting. Need I really go into why it’s disgusting?

The plot is a fantastic circle of twists and turns, accusings, recriminations, and forgivings. I wasn’t sure until the end of the book who to suspect was the bad guy, and who was the hero.  Was Tylar good or deluded? How about Dart’s Friend Laurelle? Is the thief Rogger a betrayer, or is he just playing a game? I honestly didn’t know, and that kept me reading, just to see who would fall into which camp.  Poor Tylar is hurt, stabbed, bled, mutilated, had his fingers broken multiple times, had his hand smashed by a hammer at one point (!) His characters don’t often get a chance to breathe.

The book would be wonderful, if only Clemens could write.

Sigh. He managed to highlight just about every pet peeve I have with the fantasy genre. One-or-two word paragraphs.”  Only one person could descend. <new paragraph> The godslayer.<new paragraph>. He created a badly-explained, and frankly silly unnecessary, ancient language, printed entire paragraphs of text his unintelligible script. the magic sword RivenScryr, for example, comes from the synthetic tongue; the words mean “light” and “dark,” and used to be spelled “ryvnn” and “skreer.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? Apart from the EE/I/Y vowel drift, where they magically swapped with one another (and presumably make the same morpheme), who cares? If you want to call your sword, RivenScryr, I’m cool with that.  The linguistic heritage from your silly language doesn’t give it any more plausibility than, say, calling an entire race of people “hobbits.”

His every-single-page use of question paragraphs; also annoying: “Who could she tell? What could she say? How could she explain? <new paragraph>.” (p.33) Don’t lead me with your ridiculous narrator.  Tell me the story, and let ME decide which questions will be important. I promise I’m a big enough boy to figure out what things are going on in the plot.

I also might ask what the title means at this point, because at no moment in the book did it seem to relate to anyone, or anything that was being described.

Finally, and most dreadfully, were his cringeworthy sentences such as “Though an ache still lay buried deep inside her, where no scrub brush could ever reach, Dart put away her bucket and broom and broke open a fresh bale of hay.” (p. 33) The sentence itself not being bad enough, the protagonist had been raped less than three pages earlier, and the reader doesn’t really need the quite unneccesary “scrub brush reaching” image after a particularly painful scene. I promise you, Mr. Clemens. OK… So in his defense, Clemens (it’s a pseudonym, his website says) was trained to be a veterinarian. Maybe he has a more clinical insight into rape, but I found it shocking. This was the first of many “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me” moments in the book.

Clemens’ website (or maybe it was Wikipedia; I forget which) also says he was heavily influenced by Edgar Rice burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells: each author was active prior to 1930.  I’m not sure he reads current fantasy/sci fi literature, and if so, how much he’s gleaned from his peers. Maybe he’s mimicking style that was fantastic 80+ years ago. I’d love to believe this, but I simply can’t make that connection. I think his writing is just awful.

The plot was fun. His characters were almost engaging. Dart was annoyingly mousy; Tylar too self-sure, and Kathryn, who miscarried from 10 years earlier, still “absently touches her belly” every time somebody mentions her former betrothed, which as you might guess, happens quite frequently, since it’s a book about him.  James Clemens’ narrative voice was painful, and his actual writing style is an antiquated embarrassment.  I think won’t be reading book two of the Godslayer series, although I could possibly get my hands on a copy about 50 yards from here.  The bad outweighs the good, and it’s a pity, because what was good had plenty of promise.

Two of Five stars.


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