Title: Into the Shadow Wood by Allison D. Reid
Genre: Fantasy/Short Story
Book Description from Goodreads: Once a proud member of the Sovereign’s prestigious personal guard, Einar has lost everything: his home, his Sovereign, and his purpose. Most of his closest friends have either been killed in battle or executed. His friend Nevon died trying to fulfill a dangerous oath…one that Einar disagreed with, but now feels honor-bound to take up in his stead. The quest plunges Einar into the depths of the dark and twisted Shadow Wood, testing the limits of his strength, his beliefs, and his sanity. What he finds in the Wood is far more ominous than anything he’d expected. If he’s not careful, Nevon’s fate might end up being his own.
Book Review: Having read the two novels that are out of The Wind Rider Chronicles, I was quite excited when Allison announced that there’d be a short story continuing Einar’s journey, and even more delighted when she asked me to review the novella. Einar was my favorite character from Journey to Aviad, and this story takes up where that novel left off. So here’s a closer look.
Narration: 4 out of 5. There were a few moments when things felt repetitive, as Einar, in first person, provided information we’d need to remember from Journey to Aviad in order to appreciate the story, but for the most part, it was amazing. Einar is introspective enough to make hearing his thoughts and seeing his nightmares perfectly fitting, and he knows the woods well enough to where the descriptions of plants and underbrush fits…but it never gets overly technical. The focus is on what the characters are facing, emotionally and relationallly, and the narration keeps this in mind while providing a lush backdrop for the story.
Content: 4 out of 5. A short story is always a challenge when it comes to content, and there were times when I wanted to know more. I wish I could’ve experienced a few more conversations that were only summarized, but for the most part, the content was exactly what it needed to be, balancing the action of fighting off shadowy hounds and the deceptions of the wood with exploration, dialogue, and relational interactions between Einar, his commander, and his friend.
Characters: 5 out of 5. This is the best part of The Wind Rider Chronicles, and this short story really capitalizes on Allison’s strong cast. I enjoyed getting to know Einar’s commander and Alaric, who was a fun new character (at least, if we met him before, it was only in passing). The story revolves around the trio, but really explores the changes to Einar’s heart as he grows beyond being an angry young man to one with doubts, questions, and a small spark of hope.
Artwork: Subjective. The cover is a touch more pleasant-looking than my mental image of the Shadow Wood, but then, gloomy wooded nastiness might be hard to put on a cover and still be able to read the title. And I liked the sense of purpose you can see in the way Einar’s is moving forward through the woods, despite not being able to see where he’s going and what lies in the light blue gloom.
World-Building: 5 out of 5. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the way Einar’s world works, but in this story, I felt like everything was fitting together and that we couldn’t really have added more to a work this size. We learned about who was behind Nevon’s death and gained further understanding of how the Circle works, even in exile, and we even got to see Einar’s ambitions and a bit about his past, all woven in to where it fit the story and didn’t feel like an info-dump.
Overall Response: 18 out of 20, or 4.5 overall. Though short, this is entirely enjoyable. Even if you’ve never read any of Allison’s other works, this story stands out as a coming-of-age (or at least, coming-closer-to-maturity and wholeness) story and a delightful adventure, full of medieval battle, dangers, and fantastical uncertainties. It’s easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long time, with a complete story arc and the feeling of having experienced a great deal more than the 132 pages it took up on my e-reader.
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Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Cover image used by permission from the author