In Solitude’s Shadow by David Green
Eerie River Publishing, Kindle edition, £0.99
Reviewed by Shona Kinsella
Zanna Alpenwood is a sparker – a mage who can draw on the energies around her. She has been banished to Solitude, a fortress at the very edge of Haltveldt, built to keep out the ancient foe, the Banished, largely thought to be a threat no longer. That is, until an army of Banished amasses outside Solitude, held back by only 200 sparkers, many of whom are past their prime, and Zanna’s young student, Arlo.
Zanna must reach out to her estranged daughter, Calene, and warn her of the coming threat, but Calene has problems of her own. She and her mentor and friend, Vettigan, have discovered one of the Banished far south of Solitude and must escort him to the capital – but someone doesn’t want them to reach Spring Haven.
In Solitude’s Shadow is the first book in the Empire of Ruin series, and what an opening it is. Multiple point-of-view characters give us a broad sense of the world Green has built, giving us both heroes to cheer on and villains to hate. Haltveldt is an empire built on hatred and war run by power-hungry, violent men who seek to corrupt the spark and turn it to their own ends. However, they are not unopposed. Rebellion is brewing within the emperor’s own council and the Order of Sparkers.
Zanna is wracked with guilt over the violent actions of her own past, and even when confronted with an army on her doorstep, she always seeks another path, one which does not lead to violence. Calene seethes with anger, still furious with her mother for the actions which got her banished and angry with an empire which seeks to turn her into nothing but a weapon. She finds herself teaming up with unlikely allies, on the run from her own people, and desperate to reach Solitude in time to help her mother.
The character relationships are beautifully depicted, mature and nuanced. The strained relationship between Zanna and Calene is as painful to read as it is well-written and finds an echo in Kade’s love for Arlo and his utter dedication to keeping his son safe.
The plot is well-paced and enthralling, with no scene wasted. It will pull you through the book and leave you wanting more. The prose is confident and deft throughout. Green writes with the skill of someone who has been doing this for years. Long-time fantasy readers will recognise some tropes, but they have all been used with a fresh perspective, offering something new and interesting. Dark, gripping, and still irrepressibly hopeful, In Solitude’s Shadow is a brilliant beginning to the series. Highly recommended.