Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost (The Licanius Trilogy #1) by James Islington

Rating: 8.5/10


It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs—once thought of almost as gods—were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…


“All that I wanted, I received
All that I dreamed, I achieved
All that I feared, I conquered
All that I hated, I destroyed
All that I loved, I saved
And so, I lay down my head weary with despair, for;
All that I needed, I lost.”

I am buddy reading this series with Sam from The Book in Hand (find her review of book 1 here) and Eleni from Late Night Books and it has been a blast! This is a series that has a lot of intrigue and a ton of questions to be answered and I have loved theorizing and reacting with them. I would highly recommend buddy reading for this particular series if you can!

The Shadow of What Was Lost has been compared to The Wheel of Time quite a few times and although I can’t speak to that as I haven’t read WoT, I can say that the high quality is definitely there. The Shadow of What Was Lost is a fantastic debut novel with a compelling narrative, an entrancing world full of mysteries, characters that I became quickly invested in, and subversions of classic fantasy tropes that I didn’t expect.

One of the biggest strengths of this book was its intrigues. Particularily with the character we meet about one third of the way through the book named Caeden. As it says on the book blurb, Caeden wakes up with no recollection of who he is and with blood all over him. The way Islington inserts little hints and clues about Caeden’s past throughout the narrative was incredibly well done. In fact, there have been few that I’ve seen do it better, if any. Islington also kept me guessing about the threat against the world that is coming by only giving small bits and pieces of information, and misinformation, here and there. I really enjoyed that as I feel a little mystery can go a long way in keeping me invested in the story.

Islington makes the reader feel really close to the story in his writing. You basically only know what the main characters whose POVs you follow know. This not only adds to the mystery and intrigue mentioned above, but it also puts you in the midst of this story on a personal level. The author’s writing style is also really accessible which makes this story even more engaging to read.

We follow 4 POVs in this novel and out of those Caeden is 100% my favorite character to follow. His mysterious past, his unique voice as a character, and the part of the plot that happens around him all kept me engaged and the pages turned very quickly when I was following him. However, I want to make sure I am not neglecting Asha, Davian, and Wirr because they are all really good characters in their own right. Each character has their own agency and each of their stories and actions matter to the overall plot. None of these characters are anywhere close to “filler” characters for which I am most grateful. All the MCs felt unique and developed really well throughout the story. I will say that a nitpick for me would be that these characters, who have never seen death or killed anyone before, should have had some stronger reactions to their first time seeing or doing that in this novel. However, as I said that is a nitpick and didn’t really inhibit my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

I love how the author slowly builds this world, giving enough information to understand the current story while still leaving breadcrumbs and a promise of something even more epic. You could say he leaves “an echo of things to come” every time a hint or clue is dropped😉. Islington has produced some of the best and most immersive world building I’ve read without adding in the extra minutiae that can often bog down larger fantasy books. Well done!

One last thing I would like to talk about is the pacing. The author does an excellent job of balancing action, intrigue and suspense, meaningful character dialogue, and world building in order to make this almost 700 page tome feel much shorter. I would not call this novel fast paced, but I would call it perfectly paced. The author interweaves converging plotlines seamlessly into a satisfying climax and an incredible epilogue that made me want to start reading the next novel almost immediately, which I did.

I highly recommend The Shadow of What Was Lost. If you have read this already, do you agree/disagree with anything I talked about? I’d love to chat with you in the comments about it!

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