Like most readers of fantasy and sci-fi, I’m also a big sports fan. (What? Don’t look at the screen like that.) Either way, you’ve most likely heard the phrase “sophomore slump.” If not, well, think about it and you’ll get the meaning (Google works, too). This is a term I’m going to apply, loosely, to Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov. Shadow Chaser is the second in The Chronicles of Siala trilogy, translated from Russian to English (and quite well, I might add) by Andrew Bromfield. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book; Shadow Chaser just didn’t meet my expectations.
Caution: There may be an occasional spoiler for Shadow Prowler.
Shadow Harold and his companions are back, minus one, and pick up almost immediately were they left off at the end of Shadow Prowler. Harold is still questioning his acceptance of the King’s commission and continuing his indifferent attitude toward the goblin prophecies; Kli-Kli (the jester goblin) still acts the fool—but clearly has more depth—while the rest of the group is soldiering along.
Now in the city of Ranneng, the companions face a number of obstacles. Harold is bound through shamanistic magic to the Key that will open Hrad Spein, and it doesn’t take long for his enemies to steal it and hide it in the city. Harold and his group must rely on their wits, brawn, and more than a little luck to get it back and to avoid being killed in the process.
Along the way, Harold begins to have nightmares that may hold the secrets to defeating a powerful enemy and possibly saving the world—if only he could understand the meanings. With the help of his new friends, Harold may save the world, or he may end up in the belly of a h’san’kor.
Who was that? Do I even care?
Great characters are a major plus for me, and I was hoping for some added development. Unfortunately, this was an area in which Shadow Chaser failed to deliver, leaving most of the characters insipid. In fact, I feel there may have actually been some regression in their growth. When an unexpected double cross was revealed, its impact was suppressed by how little emotional investment I had in the character—and when one character is killed off, I couldn’t even muster a little heartache.
Even Harold has little progression: still not accepting of his role in the prophecies, still pining for his simpler life, and even when faced with revelations from the past, his development seems to stagnate.
On the positive side, Kli-Kli is still my favorite goblin character ever; Harold is still witty and engaging; Bass, an old acquaintance and new travel companion, is entertaining and brings some new revelations about Harold’s past; and some of their new allies show potential. (I just hope this is expanded upon in the last book.)
Keep up the pace!
While the characters failed to captivate me, the pace kept me going. Pehov is great at writing action scenes. An awesome battle on the river, an enthralling rescue mission, and Harold’s nightmarish dreams are some of the most thrilling scenes in the series so far.
Magic is still not at the forefront, but it does have a larger impact. The major enemies, although still regulated to nameless stereotypes, have a more prominent role, as do some of their more interesting cronies.
Shadow Chaser also continues to showcase Pehov’s sense of humor (another strongpoint of the series). When one character has a sore tooth and a small group embarks on a quest to find the perfect “barber” to remove it, hilarity ensues. Likewise, when some of the characters must dress up as nobles to infiltrate the home of an enemy, tense action is balanced with humor to great effect.
Evil middle child
Shadow Chaser was a quick read with the action moving it along at a crisp pace, but it didn’t seem to progress much from the first book. Most of the story is spent in one place with various revelations coming to light. Harold’s dreams were by far some of the most interesting chapters in the book, but were far and few between. Even the enemies continued to remain in the dark.
One of the things I loved about Shadow Prowler was Pehov’s ability to transform old tropes. Although he continues to do this, Shadow Chaser doesn’t have the same feeling of uniqueness. This lackluster effort could be a direct result of a shorter length; or (in my opinion) it’s the direct result of being the evil middle child in the trilogy.
Why should you read this book?
If you enjoyed Shadow Prowler, you will want to read Shadow Chaser. It’s a fast read and continues to build on the anticipation created from the first. The characters remain relatively unchanged, but a few new allies and enemies are introduced. The action was top notch with plenty of thrills. Shadow Chaser is clearly the bridge to the final installment, and it’s a good book; it just didn’t meet the expectations I had after reading Shadow Prowler. Hopefully, Shadow Blizzard (which comes out next year) will renew the passion I had when I started the series, and conclude with the thrilling finale I’m expecting.