Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: The Oathbreaker's Shadow & The Shadow's Curse

It's been a while since I've read a book set in a desert landscape. It's been an even longer time since I read something that kind of reminded me of Aladdin or Sinbad, so I when I started the Knots Sequence duology by Amy McCulloch I was excited to jump into a thrilling adventure that would take me all over a new world, where there was magic and monsters and swashbuckling sword fights. I definitely got what I wanted and more. While I think the novels were aimed at a younger crowd than general YA fiction, I love the world, the characters, and the twists that left me wondering just how the series would end. Since I finished both books within a week (which was easy because I read an average of 3 hours a day), I'll review the series as a whole, though I will only leave the synopsis for hte first novel, The Oathbreaker's Shadow below since I don't want to spoil anything.

Really liked the flow and action of these covers, and happy that Wadi was on one!
Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.

Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.

Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.

From the very first page of The Oathbreaker's Shadow, readers are brought into an orderly world where magic exists, but where sages– the magicians of the world– are considered dangerous and untrustworthy. Everyone has a specific goal in their life, and nothing seems to change.

So of course, everything goes wrong when main character Raim is branded as a traitor.

That might sound like a tired statement, but it's not. I truly loved reading about Raim's initial adventures through the desert, watching him make mistakes any of us could have made, overcome them all, and make allies he never thought would cross his path. Both books carry the feel of an epic adventure and held my interest to the very end.

The world building is visual and very strong, but one of the high points for me were the characters. I liked watching Raim mature and grow, and his loyalty to his friends was inspiring. The winner of course was Wadi, a tough girl who takes crap from no one and is more than capable of handling herself when it comes down to it. Her destiny and secrets were crucial to the story, and I found myself constantly looking forward to her part of the story. I was actually surprised at the depth that Khareh had. Maybe I shouldn't have been, but it was great to read about the differences to himself and his shadow-self. The best part of all these characters was that they acted their ages. I find that in YA novels these days, the main characters don't act like the children they are. Not the case in the Knots Sequence books, and the characters are made more realistic for it. The only disappointment I found was with Mhara, Raim's instructor for the Yun. I really didn't feel like her story wrapped up well, and she was one of the best characters.

The magic was also really unique. All kinds of tricks were done with it, and I was left wanting more. It was always impressive to see Raim using his shadow to prove himself to others and be taken seriously as a leader.

I think the thing I loved the most was the mythology built by McCulloch. The history of the world, the gods and the story behind every secret society were created on a grand scale, and I couldn't help but want to know more about them.

Aside from Mhara, the one letdown I had was the ending of The Shadow's Curse. Don't get me wrong, I was happy with the ending, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a little rushed. There was a lot going on in that second, stronger book, and I kind of wished it had been extended into a trilogy to cover some more of the history and build the villains a little more so their treachery didn't appear so left-field when it came about. Still, as I've said many times before, it is always a point in a story's favour when one of your complaints is simply wanting more of the world and characters you've grown to love.

While I'll always encourage older audiences to give YA books a try (you would be amazed at how dark, gritty, and violent they can be), I'm not sure older audiences would be able to engage the same level I did. I'm a kid at heart, and I can throw my suspension of disbelief to some pretty incredible lengths. That being said, if you fancy a desert adventure with fun characters, exciting action, fantastic world building, and intriguing mythology. I guarantee you'll start thinking twice before making a promise after reading these books.


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