The Shadow of What Was Lost is the first book in The Licanius Trilogy, written by first-time author James Islington who self-published the book until Orbit picked up the publishing rights.
With almost 700 pages, this is a massive book and to think that this is only the first volume in a trilogy. But the pages will keep turning because Islington’s writing style is such that you will want to keep reading well into the night. The tone of the book is light and the storytelling flows despite the fact that Islingon switches between different points of view because, as is often the case with epic fantasies, the primary characters find themselves separated from each other and face their own mini-adventures until they are reunited.
The book focuses on four young friends: Davian, Wirr, Asha and Caeden who find themselves key players in the saving of the world from sinister forces on the other side of the weakening Boundary which has protected their world for many years. Each of the characters has secrets which are gradually revealed throughout the book, but it is the secret that is revealed in the epilogue that makes the most impact and makes the reader feel that even bigger and better things are yet to come.
Islington dispenses with unnecessary details. The Licanius Trilogy is often compared with Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. While there are many similarities (both series use several fantasy tropes) one major difference between the two series is Islington’s lack of enthusiasm to describe absolutely everything in the way that Jordan did. The latter, as even the most ardent Wheel of Time fan would tell you, relished describing in great detail what even the most minor characters were wearing, for example.
In contrast, Islington gives you just enough information to picture the scene in your head, and leaves the rest to the imagination. The result is a fast-paced, action packed adventure that does not give the reader much time to breathe as secrets unfold and battles are won. In general, Islington’s treatment works but you never quite feel the richness and “realness” of the world he is trying to build in the way that you can almost feel and smell the world of The Wheel of Time. Also, a few fight scenes are over even before you realise they have started. The final battle scene, for example, while spectacular in its own way, was wrapped up in a couple of paragraphs.
Like most readers I’m sure, I long wondered what or who Licanius is. It is revealed about half-way through the book that the word licanius itself means fate but it is not until near the end that the reader finds out exactly what magical object the series is named after. I felt slightly cheated when that moment came because I was expecting something more original. Also, I expected to learn the history of Licanius and find out why it was so important but I did not; perhaps Islington is saving this information for the next volume.
But all in all, The Shadow of What Was Lost is a fantastic read with likable characters and a plot that, while familiar, provides more than enough twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. I like the sense of mystery that was present throughout the book. You often wonder which characters should be trusted and things are often not what they seem. The ending provides enough resolutions to satisfy those expecting some sort of a closure, but also fresh revelations and cliff hangers that will make you want to read – no, grab – the next title in the series, An Echo of Things to Come. Fortunately for me, I discovered this series rather late and the next book is already out and so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next. Not quite as good as The Wheel of Time (not yet, anyway) but still highly recommended.