Book Review: Shadowmoor Anthology

Shadowmoor_novelLast summer, Lauri was trying to get rid of some of his excess stuff, so he gave me a few books. One of them was this one. I didn’t really think I’d ever read it, but as it happens, most pocket books don’t actually fit into your pockets, but this did, so I took it along for a trip and read it.

So, yeah, that’s the reason I’m writing about a 2008 anthology you probably can’t even get anywhere anymore.

I should note that I don’t really read that much fiction. I usually read nonfiction and although I identify quite strongly as a nerd, fantasy and scifi aren’t really my things either. When I do read fiction, its usually the novel on which a movie I really enjoyed was based on, such as Fight Club or Trainspotting. Therefore, I’m not really the right person to review fiction.

But hey, who cares? Its the Internet and just being aware of my limitations probably makes me better critic than most.

Lorwyn is a world largely inspired by Celtic myths and stories. Its a pretty nice place to go adventuring. Then, The Great Aurora came and now its the dark mirror image of the same world, where everything is dangerous and survival is the only way of life. Lorwyn is the basis for a Magic: the Gathering double-block, which clearly influences the content of this book. (Lorwyn is the only MtG world, thusfar, with no humans.)

This book is part of the Shadowmoor Cycle, a continuation of Lorwyn Cycle. It is followed by the Eventide novel.

Ode to Mistmeadow Jack

Jack is a Kithkin, or pretty much a halfling, except that they have some sort of hivemind for each town (or doun). Mistmeadow is their doun, which is under continuous threat from multiple sources. One of those sources is Rosheen Meanderer, the largest of all Giants. Jack must then find a way to divert Rosheen before their doun becomes trampled.

This is long enough to qualify as a novella and is much longer than the other stories in the book. The purpose of the whole book is to introduce the world to us, so that we’d be more interested in the cards. This just pushes it way too much. The references to certain personalities are just too obvious.

The story at least mentions the following legendary creatures:

Rosheen MeandererAshling, the ExtinguisherMaralen of the MornsongBrigid, Hero of KinsbaileOona, Queen of the Fae
Vendilion CliqueSygg, River Cutthroat

Maybe even more, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. Anyhow, this makes the whole story feel forced. These characters are just dropped in there with little or no reason or impact.

Five Brothers

This is told as a fable on what you shouldn’t do. Its a pretty grim tale of how these five brothers die one by one.

It could be argued, that this suffers from the same pitfalls as the previous story, this on handles it much better. Sure, each of the brothers is killed in fanciful ways by different races in the world, but it seems much more natural, especially with the framing.

Briarberry CohortBloodmark MentorPuresight MerrowOld GhastbarkPale Wayfarer

Paths

Paths stars Ascaeus, a Cinder, who believes there’s a force out there that can reignite his kind. Cinders are pretty much fire elementals, but with less fire.

Pyre ChargerAshenmoor GougerAshenmoor LiegeCultbrand Cinder

There’s a lot to like here. I like how Cinders were depicted as evil in the first two stories, but here we shift to their point of view. Also, I like how Cinders are given individual worldviews. Our hero is an outsider among his own kind, because he is optimistic, while the others are quite fatalistic.

Mark of the Raven

Joram is an elf who has two distinct features: he has the mark of the raven, which should elevate his status, but he happens to be missing his horns, which automatically makes him a pariah. For the latter reason, he is thrown out of their little community when he reaches adulthood. Of course, with tragic consequences.

Devoted DruidDrove of ElvesFlourishing DefensesToil to Renown

The there here is trust (which is a recurring theme in the book), as Joram trusts someone outside of his own community and the whole community pays for it. Its not a very satisfying ending, as it seems kind of abrupt and too obvious.

Meme’s Tale

Meme is a different boggart (a goblin for most of us) in that she’s softer and smoother than most. She’s not liked by her own people and would have died a long time ago if not for the protection of her Mama. Then one day, the other boggarts fall on them, leaving her Mama dead and Meme scrambling to survive in the wilderness she’s never really had to face before. Who is she anyway?

Boggart Ram-GangHorde of BoggartsRustrazor ButcherMudbrawler Raiders

I’m not usually one for explanations, but here they would have been nice. The obvious secret is that Meme is actually an elf, but how or why did she come to live with Mama is never explained, even though it seems pretty key to the story. Of course, we can assume Mama stole or found her and just decided to keep her, but why is also interesting.

Pawn of the Banshee

Yasgo is boggart who’s mates were just killed by a banshee. Valya is an elf, who’s parents the very same banshee killed. Together they hunt the banshee in search of revenge. At the same time, a faerie is trying to figure out how to get rid of the darkness infesting their world, even though Oona, the queen of the faeries, isn’t really on board with the plan.

Bog HoodlumsElvish WarriorInspired SpriteMidnight Banshee

It seems to me that the secondary story is unneeded or should have been its own whole.

Expedition

Gwyb is the son Wyb. They are kithkin. Wyb is a scout for the doun and Gwyb doesn’t quite understand how a dangerous job it is, thinking its just a fun adventure. Wyb tries to teach his son a lesson on this, but that has dire consequences.

Isleback SpawnBarrenton CragtreadsCenn’s TacticianThoughtweft Gambit

The different approach is refreshing at this point of the book, but otherwise this wasn’t very compelling. I found the character of Gwyb just annoying and didn’t feel the empathy I probably should have.

Sootstoke

Lishe is a cinder, who’s flame has almost extinguished, which has driven him insane. Virkole is another cinder, who is looking to get his fire reignited. There’s a misunderstanding, as Lishe tells Virkole that a group of treefolk have fire. Virkole takes this to mean the treefolk have the cure for their problem, while Lishe refers to how treefolk burn easily.. although Lishe might have other motives as well (meaning he does).

Crabapple CohortFulminator MageEverlasting TormentManaforge Cinder

The Cloudbreaker

An elvish community is at the brink of destruction, as the local merrows (merfolk) are overrunning it with their Geneva Convention breaking tactics. There is hope, however, as all they need is an artifact known as Cloudbreaker to summon “the Ally”, who can save them all. There’s also a love triangle.

Gleeful SabotageWildslayer ElvesElvish HexhunterMedicine Runner

Well-written, but the love triangle aspect just seems forced. As I understand it, women can and do consume literature that doesn’t have that romantic aspect, so you just don’t need it. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the story and one would hope these people would still feel sad when their compatriots die, even if they weren’t in love with the person.

All-in-All

Its a nice look at the world, but the alien nature (as I said previously, there are no humans) is a bit disconcerting, as the other races are put into humanlike roles, which doesn’t quite work. Cinders could be really interesting, but we still need a POV-character to explain them to us.

The central conceit of the book (selling us the world of Lorwyn) seems limiting enough to have a real negative effect on some of the stories. It isn’t on the level of the early novels, but you can still see how the concepts from cards are forced into the stories, and since these are different media, its somewhat awkward.

Actually, it was better than I expected. It still isn’t good, but its okay. The picture it paints is probably a bit too desperate and grim for most readers, so I can imagine it didn’t do very well, but I don’t have real stats on this.

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