My Rating: 7.75/10
It has been 20 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 there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests. But when he 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….
“Everyone has a darker nature, Caeden. Everyone. Good men fear it, and evil men embrace it. Good men are still tempted to do the wrong thing, but they resist those urges.”
What a ride! It’s hard to believe that this was a debut novel. The cover says that this is for fans of Wheel of Time, and I’d say that rings both true and not true. First off, I thought that Islington’s pacing kept the story flowing much better than Jordan’s, but diehard WoT fans might have the opposite reaction and feel like it needed to slow down. Personally, I loved the pacing, and found it hard to believe that it’s such a huge novel with how quickly I devoured it. Another thing that I found relatable to WoT was how any character might be operating under one or more aliases. I love this aspect in fantasy as long as it isn’t overdone and I think Islington used this in a way that it was a great strength to the novel. The writing styles are overall much different, but both stories FEEL epic in nature.
I think that The Shadow of What Was Lost might have rated even higher for me if I hadn’t gone back and forth between the physical and audio. This is blasphemous in the fantasy community but I’ll just say it– Michael Kramer doesn’t work for me as a narrator. Oh, he has a lovely, sonorous voice… but it doesn’t have enough variation for me. He doesn’t capture my attention and I’ve experienced this with Stormlight and WoT, my minds wanders while listening to him. For Stormlight, luckily I had read the books prior to adding in audio, but the narration of WoT probably played a part in me putting down the books. When I reread TSOWWL in the future, I would not be surprised if it ends up being closer to a 10/10. It has so many wonderful elements that are helpful to my enjoyment of a fantasy novel. There’s wonderful characterization, the plot moves along thoroughly and quickly, and the world-building is exactly as I like it– not too overwhelming, but enough to keep you immersed in the setting.
The time travel used in TSOWWL added so much to the book; we were able to get some groundwork laid for the characters that would have otherwise felt like info dumps if they were integrated into the story in any other way. The same goes for Davian (and other Augurs) and the ability to see into people’s thoughts. We were able to get firsthand experiences of other characters that way, these memories have and will keep helping to build the foundation of how we understand certain characters. There’s so much importance in these moments that you don’t realize as we are reading them. I love the way Islington slowly reveals layers of each character and the way these pieces are often revealed to the characters themselves. With this magic system, characters aren’t always reliable in their memories because of the restrictions on magic usage. Often, others are allowed to alter memories or control how much of the magic Gifted ones have access to because of the Tenets.
There are the Gifted and the ones who regulate. There are characters worthy of trust and there are deceivers; the misled and the misleading. There is plenty of action, battle, and heart. The Shadow of What Was Lost is a fun, fast, glorious start to what I hope will be an entertaining and fulfilling trilogy.