By Amy McCulloch
Available now from Flux (Llewellyn)
In THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW, Amy McCulloch develops a fascinating land where promises are bound with string and breaking them makes you an exile, followed by an angry shadow. Raim has had a promise string around his wrist since he was born, and the day he comes of age, he breaks that promise. How can he be forgiven if he does not know who he wronged? Why is his shadow different?
These two questions are a fraction of what drives the plot. There is a lot happening in THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW, from culture clash to dawning romance to magic lessons to the rise of a tyrant. It makes for a complex, layered reading experience, but also means that THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW ends without finishing much of what it began. There is a cliffhanger, meaning that we must wait for THE SHADOW'S CURSE for resolution (unless we're willing to special order it from the UK.)
Some things will be far more obvious to the reader than they are to Raim, who doesn't have a devious bone in his body. That straightforward loyalty gets him into trouble, even as it sometimes saves him. At the same time, it makes him a very likeable protagonist. He's a sweet boy, one who takes a lot of guilt on himself even as he tries to clear his name. I also liked that despite his martial training, his fighting prowess is overshadowed by Wadi, a girl from the desert tribes he meets in exile.
This is a fascinating fantasy debut. It has a slower pace, really delving into the different locations and the people there. I enjoyed it, because there worldbuilding is there to back the style up and make it interesting. At the same time, it does seem a little strange sometimes that Raim doesn't have more drive, particularly when it comes to the secrets of his oath. I look forward to reading THE SHADOW'S CURSE for the second half of the story. I hope McCulloch ends things as strong as she started them.