Greatshadow is the newest offering from James Maxey, best known for Nobody Gets the Girl and The Dragon Age Trilogy. It’s the first installment in The Dragon Apocalypse, with book two, Hush, scheduled for June of 2012.
Our protagonist is Infidel, a magically overpowered woman working as a mercenary and occasional thief. She has super strength and is impervious to most damage. When her closest friend dies, she decides to take one last big job so she can retire in style. Her best chance is to join a team of heroes heading out to kill the primal dragon of fire, known as Greatshadow. His horde is legendary, and it’ll take everything Infidel and her companions have to get it.
Pure and unabashed sword and sorcery
On the surface, this is a tale about stereotypical heroes straight out of 1980s fantasy pulps. You’ve got a group of inhumanely talented people, some of whom have never really been challenged in their adult lives. I’d expect a book like this to be rather dull and emotionally uninteresting. Where’s the challenge, after all? However, Maxey does a fantastic job with this. First, the book is told from the point of view of Infidel’s dead companion Stagger. He’s a relatively average guy, for a ghost, and is a far more relatable as a narrator than Infidel would have been. Additionally, for all their super powers, this is a group of deeply flawed people. The paladin archetype is a fanatic who can’t see the forest for the trees. The strong man isn’t as dumb as you might think, but his deformities (which cause a speech impediment) limit his ability to interact with the other characters. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. For all their powers, they aren’t gods.
The other thing that saves this book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Infidel is the type of girl you don’t touch in a bar. She might take exception, rip off the arm that’s groping her, and beat the offender with his own severed limb. There’s a part of me that appreciates the dark humor in that image. On the other hand, this isn’t an innately humorous book. It’s more what would happen if you had a group of people role playing these twelve characters: stupid, crazy stuff. Every once in awhile I’d read something that would make me giggle, and then I’d move on to the rest of the action feeling reinvigorated.
Not terribly predictable
Okay, so it’s a sword and sorcery book. You have a group of heroes, they go out to slay the dragon, some of them die. After all, what would be the fun if they all walked away without a scratch? What made this fun for me were the twists and turns Maxey took to get there. Dead didn’t mean dead, right from chapter one when Stagger dies only to haunt his knife for the rest of the book. I was entertained to see just how some of these characters died and how some of them managed to survive. And with so many characters there for different reasons, whose ultimate goal is going to the one that is fulfilled?
This book also has a secondary plot line (which you could argue may actually be the main plot line), which is the relationship between Infidel and Stagger. They both have a lot of thinking to do on what their relationship was, and what it could have been. This is made more complicated by Stagger struggling to come to grips with the fact that he’s a ghost, and his inability to affect anything in the physical realm. It’s Stagger’s growth as a character that really fleshes this book out, and keeps it from becoming just another sword and sorcery tale of dragons and heroes.
Why you should read this book
Two words: it’s fun. In fact, I think this is the most fun book I’ve read in months. It plays with archetypes, it’s intense with just a bit of silly, and there’s a nice romantic arc. In short: win. Lots of win. Can it be June so I can read the next book now?
Interested in reading Greatshadow? It will be next month’s book club read at The Ranting Dragon! Look for a giveaway of Greatshadow and more information about the book club tomorrow.