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Book Review: The Light of Burning Shadows by Chris Evans

# Genre: Military Fantasy, Epic/High Fantasy
# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: Pocket
# Publication Date: July 28, 2009
# ISBN-10: 1416570535
# ISBN-13: 978-1416570530
# Author Website: Iron
# Author Blog: Deep is just shallow on end

The Light of Burning Shadows is the sequel to A Darkness Forged in Fire, picking up where the first novel left off. The Iron Elves, a band of misfits and musketeers in The Calahrian Army has defeated the Shadow Queen in Elfkyna. The Fallen Star has become a tree and a symbol of hop for the people of that land. But the Iron Elves, led by its only true elf, Konowa Swift Dragon, has left for other shores, stopping first at the Wikumma Islands to rid them of the insidious trees of the Shadow Queen, and moving onward to the Hasshugeb Expanse to collect the original Iron Elves. Using the frost fire of the Shadow Queen gifted to the regiment by the blood oath they have sworn, the Iron Elves quickly become embroiled in another battle over a star, except this time there is a third party involved in the imbroglio.

The Light of Burning Shadows is epic/heroic fantasy, but with a twist. Like Robert V. S. Redick or Stephen Hunt, Chris Evans has chosen as his setting a world based on the age of exploration, something akin to the 18th century. This is a great age of ships, of battles fought with muskets and spears, of a time when empires were expanding all over the world. And so it is with Evan’s world. As a fantasy, magic is a major player in this story, giving us a secondary world that is both like and unlike our own history.

Evans is a historian and military buff and this shines through in his novel. He give the reader a large picture of the world politics that are occurring in and around the Iron Elves, but also keeps the story very down to earth by focusing on the character and events surrounding the Iron Elves. Like the famous Easy Company in WWII, the Iron Elves keep finding themselves on the forefront of the fighting, even as their numbers dwindle. Without belittling real history, Evans story could be said to be a fantasy version of Band of Brothers.

Some readers may dislike that the plot of The Light of Burning Shadows is essentially the same as A Darkness Forged in Fire with only a few twists. In may case, I found this to actually be a positive, as I was immediately comfortable with the story, and was able to enjoy the new twists that Evans created without having to focus hard on where the story was going. This is the second novel of a series, and so does suffer from some of those middle book syndrome issues. It is given over to a lot of characterization, though I found it just as full of action as characterization. And Evans does belabor the point about the difficulties the Iron Elves are facing with the curse brought on by the blood oath a bit too much, almost annoyingly so. And the novel is impossible to read if you haven’t read the first book, as it will make little sense at all.

What is the best about this narrative is that it is comfortable reading. Evans is entertaining. While his setting may be mostly unique, a part of the subgenre that author Stephen Hunt calls “flintlock fantasy”, his story follows the same prescription for most epic fantasy. We have a group of heroes seeking to overthrow an evil monarch. But in this case, our heroes are more soldiers than warriors, the war is between and empire and a dictatorship, not good vs. evil. The fact that the Iron Elves use the Shadow Monarch’s magic against her is significant, as it is unusual to see a writer be able to write a situation where heroes successfully use evil to fight evil. Although at the end of the novel it is still uncertain if that evil will overwhelm the regiment, Evans does create plausible situations in which an evil magic can fight its own source and the magic of others.

The Light of Burning Shadows is an excellent sequel. It has all the high-adventure of the first novel, the characters continue to intrigue, and the setting is unusual enough to keep the reader from feeling this is a rehash of the same old epic fantasy tropes. I recommend you read Evans first novel A Darkness Forged in Fire before The Light of Burning Shadows, but I don’t think you will regret reading these action-driven, unique setting tales.