I’m not usually one to pick up novellas outside of a series’ main books, but for The Shadow Campaigns I’d gladly make an exception – which should give you a hint into how much I love this series. A couple of years ago when Django Wexler released the prequel short story The Penitent Damned for free, I snatched it up and read that one too. It introduced us to a young female thief named Alex who possesses a demon inside her that allows her to do some incredible things, giving her an edge over others in her trade.
Now Alex’s tale continues in The Shadow of Elysium, but it is told instead through the eyes of a young man named Abraham, a character who also has a demon inside him. The novella opens with the two of them in chains, traveling on a prisoner wagon to the fortress-city of Elysium to start a lonely and brutal life under the watchful eyes of the Priests of the Black. Every other chapter we get a glimpse into Abraham’s past as he tells of his life growing up in a remote village, the day he discovers his demon and the healing powers it grants him, and the events that led up to his arrest. Eventually things converge into the present, and Abraham has decided to stage a daring breakout. But then, there’s his fellow captive Alex. The young woman’s abilities are a mystery to him, but he has no doubt that they must be dangerous if the guards feel the need to keep her sedated at almost all hours of the day – which means she could be their greatest chance for escape.
The Shadow of Elysium can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone, no prior experience with The Shadow Campaigns series is required since these characters and events are completely apart from the main story. You don’t even need to have read The Penitent Damned. It’s a great place for new readers to jump on board but also a wonderful experience for fans of the series because it adds so much in terms of world building. This novella’s main focus is Abraham anyhow, a deeply personal tale that does a way better job exploring a protagonist than most short fiction I’ve ever read. We’ve not seen first person narration used in this series until now, but it works extraordinarily well for Abraham’s story and it was probably the foremost reason I took to him so quickly in just a handful of pages. A lot of short stories and novellas have disappointed me in the past because they don’t leave much room for character development (which is why I typically avoid them), but this isn’t a problem here. In fact, I find the storytelling well-paced and very balanced.
Now I realize complaining that a novella is too short is a bit like complaining that ice cream is too sweet, so I’m not going to do it here; but I do, however, want to say I wished it hadn’t ended so abruptly. It was a deflating moment when I turned the page with excitement expecting another chapter to see what became of Abraham and Alex, to discover that the remaining 25% of the book or so was actually a preview for the third novel of the series The Price of Valor. To Wexler’s credit though, he definitely made me want more. And considering how I’ve been looking forward to The Price of Valor for almost a year now, I certainly couldn’t remain glum for long.
What else can I say but if you haven’t picked up The Thousand Names yet, what in the hells are you waiting for, go out and get it, go out and get it NOW! But okay, if you’re still on the fence and not sure if you want to take the plunge into yet another epic fantasy series (I understand, as they do demand a lot of your time), I urge you to check out The Shadow of Elysium. Like The Penitent Damned, it serves as a fantastic introduction to Wexler’s writing and gives a taste of what The Shadow Campaigns has to offer, and it’s an even better novella. A wonderful place to get started....more