Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview

shadow-of-the-conquerorEnthusiastic, imaginative, and inept. 

It’s a first novel, and it has the clawmarks of one: big ideas; enthusiastic, imaginative but vague worldbuilding; exposition delivered mostly through dialogue; characterization delivered mostly through dialogue; action described mostly through dialogue; and unnecessary dialogue pointing out themes and moral implications that have already been made obvious by basic narration or other dialogue strings

There are also several structural failures: the main hero-buddy duo just doesn’t work (although the secondary one does, mostly). What’s worse for the book as a whole, none of the humor is quite as funny as it wants to be; the book itself could have excused a multitude of faults with a strong infusion of black, self-aware humor.

Let’s start with the humor thing. What is this book about? It’s about a returned genocidal ex-tyrant, Daylen nee Dayless the Conqueror, returned to full youth, strength, and godlike power by a miraculous accident, who decides to pretend to be his own son and try his damndest to Do Good Deeds To Atone. He’s not very good at it.

Problem: He was a universally-despised tyrant and now he a) looks like himself again, b) wears his old outfits, c) carries his unique sword-that-can-only-be-wielded-by-its-maker, d) wears his old insignia, e) keeps taking offense when anyone calls him “kid,” f) smells like himself to someone intimately familiar with his scent….and doesn’t get recognized. Oh, also, he’s pretty bad at the “doing good stuff” thing. Now, play this scenario for drama, but add tons of humor and a romance, and you get The Legends / Ostentatious Zhao Yao (Highly recommended, btw.) Leaving out the humor–taking this and Daylen completely seriously–forces the audience to take everything completely seriously, meaning that the increasing suspension of disbelief required to accept that no one recognizes Daylen until he reveals himself is increasingly hard. 

The second problem is that Daylen’s main sidekick–the foil that he spends the largest amount of time bouncing off of–doesn’t work. Ahrek, the one chosen by the Light to accompany Daylen, is vaguely aimed at the “otherworldly” trope, because this would theoretically allow him and Daylen to play off each other, Idealist vs Cynic-style. You would need a character to either be completely otherworldly, completely naive, ignorant, or incredibly stupid to consistently take Daylen at his word that he is NOT Dayless the Conqueror, definitely, oh no. Problem is, Ahrek is shown to be moderately perceptive about the way Daylen’s actions don’t quite match up with his words…or cover story; and, near the end, revealed to be someone with a deep knowledge of Dayless….just driving home that the author missed “otherworldly” by a mile and hit “STUPID” instead.

(The “the Dukes have sex with goats” joke, however, does work, mostly because you can basically hear Daylen’s evil-and-phlegmmy-old-man-cackle each time it comes up.)

This elides us right into the novel’s most irritating problem. Everybody talks too freaking much, and more things needed to happen instead.

Amateur or beginning authors tend to have a problem: not knowing how to portray things happening. So, without the ability, or trust in their ability, to just show the hero, for instance, leaping into the fray with mighty sword and laying havoc to evildoers, they:

Talk us up to something happening.

Talk through it happening.

Talk about it after it’s happened.

And, optionally, have other characters discuss what has happened in a separate scene.

Instead of people talking incessantly, things need to happen. Now, this book is not completely without plot or action–there is in fact a thrilling climax, and there are several over-the-top fight scenes–but each and every one is buried under the weight of people just not shutting up about what they intend to/are/have been doing. This is where Shad’s editor and beta readers have done him major disservice. A lot of these scenes could be condensed, replaced with narration, or just removed. Hell, for most of the Daylen-Ahrek conversations, you could replace them with:

“You’re not your father, Daylen!”
(concerned but not AT ALL suspicious stare)
(Daylen stomps off)

And then pirates attacked, or something.

Seriously. Less talk. Much less talk. Much more do.

Further, I feel that the climax was undermined by the denouement, which was lengthy, boring, and (wait for it) comprised entirely of EXTREMELY BORING AND REDUNDANT DIALOGUE. A better choice would have been to end with Daylen’s arrest or evading arrest. The sequel could then pick up with a flashback to Daylen-as-a-genuine-war-hero, because that part of his life–and that part of the world–is left carefully unexamined in this book.

OK, so all that being said, what’s the good part?

The good part is that this is an attempt to tell a fantasy adventure story with a clear and interesting theme,  a simple and acceptable plot, with a non-farmboy main character, in a unique and inventive setting. There are also some good fights, and there is decent enough worldbuilding (once the initial exposition dumps have stopped.) And, although the characters are mainly, uh, characterized through dialogue, they are also largely consistent; and they’re mostly pretty likable. 

Here seems the right place to put that the secondary hero/sidekick duo does mostly work, because Shad keeps their A vs B issues much simpler and the payoff is rewarding. A is from a nudist, sex-positive culture. B is traumatized from past experiences and sex-phobic. They don’t speak each other’s languages well…including body language. They bounce off each other excellently, and their character development moves from complete misunderstanding and dislike to mutual sympathy to genuine friendship and support. It’s quite nice, actually, and being the sub-plot, gets just about the right amount of time to feel done, but not overdone.

Having the protagonist most decidedly not be a farm boy–the way Daylen is able to use his powers makes him effectively a god, not to mention unkillable; not to mention he was one of the greatest swordsmen in the world before he develops super strength, ultimate fortitude, instant healing, super speed, and the ability to increase any ability he has by 4000%–is rather refreshing. I liked it; the fact that Daylen was able to figure out his own powers and use them effectively never seemed like cheating. Well, mostly never. 

This does seem like damning with faint praise, but honestly, it’s a first novel. It’s rough. 

But I read it, I mostly enjoyed it, and I’ll probably pick up the sequel and read that when it comes out.

Rated: 2.5 floating islands out of 5.

4 thoughts on “Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview

  1. The idea sounds very intriguing. However, your indepth analysis tells me I’d better not try this or I’ll dnf it and write a very scathing review.
    Sounds like the author just needs a lot more practice, which he’ll only get by continuing to write. For his sake I hope he does 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nothing about this book truly *deserves* “scathing”–good-natured, genuine efforts to amuse and interest the reader and tell a story that the author is enthusiastic about telling ought to be given tolerance. Criticism, sure, but also tolerance.

      Now, if this was book, say, eight in a series and was MAKING THE SAME BLOODYDAMN MISTAKES IN BOOK EIGHT THEY MADE IN BOOKS ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN, GENEVIEVE COGMAN, that’s a different thing entirely.

      Liked by 1 person

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