Book Review: River of Shadows by Robert Redick

We’ve got to talk about Robert Redick’s incredible fantasy world!

I don’t know how long it’s been but I finally managed to finish another book. I was done reading it a few weeks ago (I think) but then life happened and I just fell completely out of my habits. After two years of living in the Arctic I finally moved home to mainland Norway, and though I feel like life hasn’t changed much while I’ve been gone, suddenly I don’t have time for any of the stuff I used to. It takes a while to get acclimatized to a new (well, technically old) place, and the little spare time I’ve had I’ve spent doing a little bit of writing and editing.

So while I should have been sitting on the balcony reading all the books I have lined up, I’m not quite there yet, and so the reviews have had to wait. But now I’m finally done with River of Shadows!

And what an incredible fantasy novel this is. This is the third book – and you can find links to my reviews of book 1 and book 2 here.

The thing that keeps surprising me with Redick’s story and what keeps me absolutely enthralled is his incredible world building. The main plot of the story is that we follow Pazel Pathkendle, a tarboy aboard the Chathrand, one of the largest ships in Redick’s world as it travels across vast seas on a conspiratory quest. It’s incredible, so extremely well designed and researched and there are conspiracies and secret plots interwoven within each other on every other page.

Honestly, I thought I had figured out where this was going after book 1 and 2, but this third book threw me completely. I’m amazed, again and again. And it’s so unique as well. Often when you read fantasy you can find clear inspirations from big names like Tolkien or Lewis, or perhaps more recently, George R. R. Martin, and even though the stories are fresh and exciting, the worlds become familiar.

This, however, is like nothing I’ve ever come across – which of course could just mean that I’m not as well-read as I think – but the world and concepts Redick has created here keeps me wanting to turn the pages again and again. And the plot of course, with its secrets and ever-revolving conspiracies is brilliant as well. Characters I thought I had figured out turn out to be something else entirely, and little nuggets of seemingly random information from way back in book 1 are suddenly world-changing two books later. I love it.

The one big set back with these books – which I’ve whined about once or twice already in my earlier reviews – is that I find them incredibly difficult to read. The writing is often convoluted and complex, in a way that feels very over the top sometimes (at least to me).

It’s not as bad now, after having gone through two books already as it was to begin with, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people stop during book 1, before they’ve had time to be enthralled by the world and the mysterious plot.

It’s difficult to put a finger on, but sometimes it feels like the word choice, the way characters talk to each other, and random tangents jammed in the middle of segments you feel are very important, are all designed to keep you confused. To hinder you grasping the full meaning of the words on the page. And maybe they are, in a way. I’ve mentioned the many conspiracies and secrets people keep in this book, and to keep the reader unaware, we obviously can’t be served all the hidden meanings right away.

It’s rare that I find reading difficult, or like a chore – but when I do, it’s one of the few things that can make me want to put away a book.

I remember a specific example from this third book where two parties are talking to each other, and then suddenly a third party stands up and shouts something random, at which party 1 threatens to kill them before going back to conversing with party 2. I read that passage back and forth a few times, trying to figure out: (1) why the third party suddenly shouted something that seemed random, and (2) why party 1 wanted to kill them. Eventually I just gave up and read on, none the wiser.

So yeah, these books can be very confusing – I wish I knew someone that had read them, so I could discuss them and see if other people experienced them the same way (though online reviews certainly seem to suggest so). But I also wish I could discuss the amazing world building and intricate plot with someone – because it’s absolutely brilliant!

If you can get past the complex writing, you’ll find something incredible here. One of the most unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving into. Book 4 is the last in the series, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.

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