September 1, 2014

Review: Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows Book one of the Age of Legends series
By Kelley Armstrong
Available now from HarperCollins
Review copy

SEA OF SHADOWS throws the reader into the deep end of a world with complicated social rules and magic.  There's curses on scrolls, strict honor codes, a Kitsune clan, and it's all very Japanese except for the things that aren't Japanese at all -- like the characters' names.

This means, for me, that the horror elements of this horror-fantasy took awhile to gel.  Horror takes much of its force from perverting the normal.  When you're still getting a barometer of what normal is, then it's just sort of people disappearing left and right for some reason that maybe has something to do with a plague or a curse.  Meanwhile, the back of your head is pondering why the book is titled SEA OF SHADOWS when it appears to take place in a sinister forest.

But I though the novel picked up pace and I really started to get into it.

SEA OF SHADOWS is the story of twin sisters Moria and Ashyn, the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood, respectively.  Moria is the warrior, but Ashyn is the one who must go into the woods to gather the dead and lay their spirits to rest.  But something goes horribly awry, and their town becomes infected with the strange, zombie-like sickness that has been lurking in the woods.  The spirits that usually guide Moria and Ashyn go silent.  They have only their skills, their respective guard pet, and the two convenient love interests.

I think that SEA OF SHADOWS is a very enjoyable read, but not one that hangs together when you think about it too much.  Kelley Armstrong threw so much at the wall when building this world, and I'm not sure how much she though about how the various pieces fit together.   The whole exiling people to the woods to become zombies thing never made much sense.  Hopefully, the future books in the series can smooth some of that out.  However, the first book of trilogy is usually handles the introductory material, and SEA OF SHADOWS had trouble with that.  And, well, the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, which I always hate in a first book.

I think Armstrong fans will enjoy SEA OF SHADOWS, as will fans of fantastic and J-horror.  But this book felt like it could have used a few more rounds of editing to fill in the plot holes and help the world building cohere.  I also feel like a stronger sense of the world and how it works would help some of the pacing issues to.  I had fun reading SEA OF SHADOWS, and I'll probably be back for the second book, but it isn't Armstrong's best effort.


  1. I saw this one listed at Horn Book as a SABRIEL read-alike and I thought to myself, "but it's gotten terrible reviews from people I trust!" So I was very interested to see what you thought of it. Seems like my first instinct was probably the most accurate. I can get obsessive about world-building...

    1. Haha, yeah, Armstrong has done better. I liked the ideas of the worldbuilding, but the execution was wobbly.


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