You are embarking on an incredible journey into a world where great dreams, and terrible nightmares, come true. This is a land where dense mists form twice a day to provide life-giving water for all that live. This phenomenon is known as the Mistfall. A great war between five nations has just ended. An entire nation was destroyed in a moment, the blinking of an eye. The four surviving nations refer to that terrible cataclysm as The Mourning.
The continent is on the brink of total chaos in the war’s wake. Greedy men lust for power, seeing opportunity in the chaos. The people want someone who can give them hope. They want a hero, a light in the darkness.
A Tale of Mist and Shadow is about being able to see through the haze. Its about seeing the light of life, even in the dark. Those are the true heroes.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
It had been a while since I read a fantasy book when the very nice M.R. Laver contacted me to tell me about ‘A Tale of Mist and Shadow’. Upon agreeing to read it, it took me a bit longer than I would have hoped to get around to it and finish it, but now that I have done so, I am glad to be able to review it. I’ve got a lot to say about it – some great, some not so – and for the first time in a while I was making comprehensive notes throughout, so I’m hoping I can do this one justice with this review.
This book really packs a punch in its preface. The opening, with its first-person narrator addressing the reader directly, differs from the third-person narrative of the rest of the book, and is fantastic at capturing the reader’s attention. I love this style of narrative, and I think I would have liked to see a few more interventions of this kind. We then revert to third-person for the rest of the narrative. Most chapters start with reference to a time frame (e.g. Year 2, Post-Mourning) referring to how long it has been since a great war, with the novel taking place over 2 years. This makes the pace quite fast, yet the events progress rather slowly – at points, it does not seem like so long has passed since the previous chapter. Regarding the ‘Post-Mourning’, we know that the events are occurring after the end of a great war, and we know a little about it, yet I would have liked to explore that concept deeper from the beginning. In fact, I would have liked to explore a few concepts earlier on, Cassandra’s powers being the largest of these; quite a lot of interesting ideas were developed throughout the course of the book, but a lot of development came at least a third of the way in, meaning that the beginning was slow and a little confusing at times.
The opening was slow, but a part of the reason I struggled to get into it was Cassandra as a character. For the first portion of the text, we are following the story of Cassandra, daughter and spokesperson to a goddess, Dione. Her initial plot is a typical fantasy ‘over the wall’-style one, which was – while a tad unoriginal – certainly an interesting enough starting point. The problem lay in Cassandra herself: she is a very difficult character to follow: she is self-absorbed, rude, arrogant, greedy and promiscuous, and spends a great deal of her dialogue talking about how, as the daughter of Dione, she cannot be disobeyed, and how she deserves power and appreciation. Despite her father and a military man or two putting her in her place, this attitude does not cease. Whilst intrigued by Cassandra’s powers and background (which we do not truly address until roughly 16% through) I did not care for her personality, making following her dialogue exasperating. The opening dynamic between Cassandra, Balak and Lakum was bizarre, and the two men filled the same role – I often forgot which was which and could not tell them apart, so it was hard to sympathise with either. Also, most of the men Cassandra interacts with (the generals, captains etc.) fulfil similar roles, with similar political beliefs, equally fantastical names and all referred to most frequently by their military titles, so I often lost track of these minor characters and what their roles within the story actually were. I do think that there are far too many minor characters and sub-plots with far too little page time, crammed into too short a book for me to realistically be able to follow or remember all of them. However, some of these additional sub-plots were more entertaining than the major arc following Cassandra, such as the old man in the arena, and anything that gave a bit more context to the world.
Despit a rocky start, I was really captivated when the dynamic shifts away from Cassandra and towards Grace, about 40% through. Grace is a far more identifiable and three-dimensional character than Cassandra: she has humour, intelligence and kindness, as well as a drive to succeed. Grace, Fios, Sam and the rest of the citizens of Enoch’s Pardon made for a much more interesting plot and dynamic. This part of the book felt like an altogether different novel to the earlier chapters, and if only this atmosphere had come across from the beginning, my rating would be higher, as it was truly superb. The interactions between Grace and Fios were the most sincere in the novel, and the scenes with Enoch or Sam were also a lot more appealing than anything Cassandra was featured in. Until Grace’s and Cassandra’s arcs merged at the end, it was almost as if I was reading from two different books. Talking of the climax, Laver writes very good (if long!) fight scenes, and the moments of drama tend to be strong. Despite the last quarter of the book being perhaps overly dramatic, the rest of the novel came across as rather light-hearted, mingling action and humour in a perfect blend.
A lot of the names are derived from mythology – Dione, Dodona and Cassandra from the Greek and Ra from the Egyptian etc. – and there were some mythical undertones, with the concept of the gods and goddesses. I would’ve liked to see the religious basis explored deeper. Cassandra is blinded by adoration for the goddess Dione, but we do get references to other nations having other idols, which could lend itself to exploring the religion further, seeing as the worshipping of Dione plays such a huge role in the novel. We also see many typical fantasy features such as dragons and vampires, as well as the slightly less common velociraptor! These elements, and the fantasy feel in general, are executed very well, although I would have liked a little more focus on world-building and a little less on character. One of the things Laver writes best is the descriptive passages. There is a lot of sensory detail, and the description of the dragons’ appearances and of the setting and imagery (especially that of the forest early on) is fantastic. In my PDF, there were some lovely illustrations of the dragons and of the Temple of Dione, as well as a useful map at the end – although it would have been more helpful had the map come at the beginning!
However, not all of the writing was flawless. There were a lot of grammatical errors such as ‘i’ lower-case, lack of capitals on proper nouns and the wrong kind of ‘your’ or ‘to’. There is often a lack of commas, and not all of the sentences flow particularly well due to some difficult sentence structuring. Sometimes, especially in the first half of the novel, there is a lot of listing of events, without enough ‘showing’. There is also a constant paragraphing issue in my copy, but I’m not sure if that is exclusive to the format I was reading it in. But these are the kinds of issues that a good proof-read would eradicate. Despite all of this, for the most part the novel was easy to read, the dialogue mostly felt sincere, and as I mentioned previously, Laver’s descriptive passages are a joy.
I am glad to have read this book; it has reignited a want to read more fantasy stories. I thoroughly enjoyed reading most of the novel, even if it was a slow-burner, and I think that Laver’s ideas are very good indeed, although there are a few areas that could have been executed better. It was ultimately a lot of fun.