RogerBW's Blog

Shadowborn, Alison Sinclair 14 October 2021

2011 fantasy, last of its trilogy. The Shadowborn are attacking, and even if Lightborn and Darkborn work together that may not be enough to stop them…

If volume 2 was a little short on action, this final volume has plenty; but it suffers from some of that book's other problems, particularly a narrative that's split among rather too many characters. Each of them has an interesting story, but it's always a wrench to move between them.

Of course, a series that's about puzzles and mysteries has to provide satisfying resolutions to those puzzles and mysteries. It's a bit of a mixed bag: the huge threat of Shadowborn monsters from the Borders turns out to be rather smaller in scope than expected (and I suppose a whole new society might have been a bit too much to add in a final book), but we do get to learn the actual history of how the Lightborn/Darkborn split happened.

The Shadowborn themselves always felt narratively superfluous to me. We already have these two parallel societies with different worldviews, and each with multiple factions; to my mind we didn't need the whole Shadowborn angle to provide both poking-stick to get things moving and huge magical knowledge from which the solution can be constructed (which, because it's basically "this magic you didn't know about exists and is useful", feels like a cheat because it isn't foreshadowed). There are already lots of fascinating stories to be told here without the huge external threat to make people work together (when they finally believe in it). The core motivation of the Shadowborn, when it's eventually revealed, just doesn't satisfy at all; collectively they are bare-bones plot drivers among a constellation of more interesting people.

The characters we've met before go on well, and the core couple of Balthasar and Telmaine remains interesting and convincing, even if I sometimes felt that Sinclair was enjoying piling hurt after hurt on Balthasar just a little too much. Some of the new characters are a bit prone to fall in love at first sight, perhaps because there are only so many chapters left and they have to share the narrative.

The first book is definitely the best of these, but if I wasn't wowed by the others I did at least enjoy them.

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