Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Conqueror’s Shadow by Ari Marmell

Posted by Simcha 5:52 AM, under | 5 comments

I’d never heard of Ari Marmell until I saw him mentioned on another author’s blog and his Jewish sounding name immediately drew my attention (what can I say, It’s the way we are. Jews get overly excited to find other Jews in unexpected places, and then we spend hours grilling each other on possible mutual acquaintances). So I followed a link back to Marmell’s website where I discovered that he had just published a book, and it actually sounded really interesting.

They called him the Terror of the East. His past shrouded in mystery, his identity hidden beneath a suit of enchanted black armor and a skull-like helm, Corvis Rebaine carved a bloody path through Imphallion, aided by Davro, a savage ogre, and Seilloah, a witch with a taste for human flesh. No shield or weapon could stop his demon-forged axe. And no magic could match the spells of his demon slave, Khanda.Yet just when ultimate victory was in his grasp, Rebaine faltered. His plans of conquest, born from a desire to see Imphallion governed with firmness and honesty, shattered. Amid the chaos of a collapsing army, Rebaine vanished, taking only a single hostage—the young noblewoman Tyannon—to guarantee his escape.

Seventeen years later, Rebaine and Tyannon are married, living in obscurity and raising their children, a daughter and a son. Rebaine has put his past behind him, given up his dreams of conquest. Not even news of Audriss—an upstart warlord following Rebaine’s old path of conquest—can stir the retired warrior to action.

Until his daughter is assaulted by Audriss’s goons.

Now, to rescue the country he once tried to conquer, Rebaine once more dons the armor of the Terror of the East and seeks out his former allies. But Davro has become a peaceful farmer. Seilloah has no wish to leave her haunted forest home. And Khanda . . . well, to describe his feelings for his former master as undying hatred would be an understatement.

But even if Rebaine can convince his onetime comrades to join him, he faces a greater challenge: Does he dare to reawaken the part of him that gloried in cruelty, blood, and destruction? With the safety of his family at stake, can he dare not to?

I really enjoy fantasy books that play around with classical elements of fantasy while adding unique twists, and this is what really drew me to read The Conqueror’s Shadow.
While it included many characteristics that you would expect to find in standard fantasy, such as witches, ogres, magical weapons and enchanted forests, it is unusual in that it tells the story from the perspective of a retired villain, one who has exchanged his ambitions of rulership for a quiet family life.

In the book’s prologue we get a look at the dark side of Corvis Rebain, as he and his army ruthlessly slaughter the residents of a city in order to reach a particular object located there. When Corvis’s plans fall through, he grabs a young woman nearby as a hostage and makes his escape, leaving behind a city full of death and destruction.

When we next meet Corvis he has been transformed into a peaceful land owner with a loving wife and two young children. This new Corvis is quite likable and readers will find themselves quickly warming up to him. But when Corvis is forced to don his armor once again, we discover that the old Corvis is not so far away. It’s then that the reader comes to realize how blurred the line between hero and villain really is.

As Corvis goes about planning his new campaign, the reader is treated to brief flashbacks of some particular events from the past that led to Corvis’s earlier dreams of conquest. We are also given glimpses into the events following Corvis’s retreat after his failed attack and the development of his relationship with his hostage, who later became his wife. These glimpses of the past help fill in some of the back story, allowing us to understand some of the different characters and their motivations.

In many ways The Conqueror’s Shadow fulfilled my expectations quite satisfactorily, but in some aspects I found myself a little let down. I really enjoyed the unique perspective the story gives and the questions it brings up about heroes and villains, but this approach doesn’t seem to extend to all the characters, particularly not the true villain who in the end succumbs to typical villain-like behavior. I had also expected some of the other characters to be explored in a bit more depth, particularly some of Corvis’s enemies, and I was disappointed that we never really get inside their heads.

I also felt that the flashbacks ended a bit too soon for me to really get the full picture that they were intended to provide. The first set of flashbacks ended before really showing readers what had actually set Corvis off on his plans of conquest and the second set didn’t offer as much of an explanation as I would have liked for how Corvis’s hostage ended up as his wife. So when the book concluded I still felt that there were some pieces missing from the story, which bothered me somewhat.

There were parts of the book that lagged a bit, particularly towards the middle, but the book ended with some interesting surprises and an action packed climax, that I found quite satisfying.

Marmell also does an interesting job balancing the darkness of the story with humor, resulting in a somewhat lighthearted feel, despite the grim events in the tale.

    The trapdoor shot open as though spring-loaded. A sudden burst of musty air puffed into the closet, the cloud of dust rising above him, an enraged spirit awakened from what was supposed to have been eternal slumber.
    But when the dust cleared, when his eyes adjusted to the darkness within the small alcove, he saw only what he expected to see. A black drop cloth over a large chest.

    And within that chest ...

    An axe. A suit of black armor, spiked, plated with bone. And a helm formed to evoke an iron-banded skull.

    Shaking violently as a newborn calf, Corvis lifted the helm from its place in the chest, where it had lain untouched for years. The jaw gaped open as he lifted it up, as though the skull itself were greeting him. Corvis gazed intently into the sockets, examining the dark strips of iron crossing the face and continuing around the head. He glanced down at the armor itself, saw his reflection, though blurred, in the dusty black plates, saw the thin spines jutting from the cuirass. He pondered, in his mind's eye, the image the entire ensemble must have projected.
    And though he fought to keep it away, one specific thought kept returning, over and over again, to the forefront of his mind:

    What the hell was I thinking? I must've looked like a world-class idiot in this thing!

Unfortunately though, Marmell overdid the sarcastic comments which began to get irritating when every character always seemed to have a witty comment or retort on hand. I hope that in the sequel, The Warlord’s Lament, Marmell will cut back on these and perhaps limit the sarcastic barbs to just one or two of the characters.

Overall, The Conqueror's Shadow is a well-told story that provides an entertaining read that I believe many fans of fantasy will enjoy. While it has its faults, it’s also enjoyable enough that those faults may be overlooked for the pleasure of the story as a whole.


Well done Simcha!

This was not the first review of Conqueror's Shadow. But so far I was indecisive whether I want the book or. In the end your review convinced me to add it to my list. Can't remember when I read last time a story with ogres....

Speak my name, and I shall appear. ;-)

I'm really glad that, despite your disappointments, you enjoyed the book overall. You're definitely not the first person to point out that I overdid the snark, and in retrospect, I agree completely. I made a concerted effort to tone it down in The Warlord's Legacy (formerly Lament.) There are still several very sarcastic characters--that's just who I am as a writer--but I tried to make certain that I didn't give that same sense of humor to so many of them, as I did in this first book.

Hopefully you'll like it even better than the first--but either way, thanks so much for taking the time to offer your thoughts on TCS. :-)


Ari Marmell
--Rodent of the Dark

I have to say this is the first review I have read of the book as well. It sounds like an interesting fantasy read. I am going to have to add it to the list here, just to get to my curiousity. You did great with this review to have me go looking for it. Thank you! :)

And very nice to see the author stopping by. Hello!

These are some great quotes. Thanks for sharing them.

Michael: I'm sure you will enjoy this book and I look forward to hearing your thought on it.

Ari: Thanks for stopping by. That's pretty neat how you are able to magically appear that way ;)
I know it can't be easy creating an individual voice for each character, but I do think cutting down the sarcastic comments to just one or two characters will really help. But I do love the humor and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Melissa: I've seen The Conqueror’s Shadow reviewed on a couple of the bigger SFF sites but it didn't really make the rounds on many of the smaller book blogs.If you do read it, I look forward to getting to discuss it with you.

Martha: Thanks! I'm glad you like them and I appreciate your stopping by.

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