Henrik's Reviews > Shadow Land

Shadow Land by Peter Straub
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's review
Apr 29, 09

bookshelves: horror
Recommended for: those wanting to read intricate yet classic stories of the weird
Read in April, 2009

** spoiler alert ** To me this story is a grand experiment that doesn't quite accomplish what it sets out to do.

Peter Straub proved to me in his excellent Ghost Story that he can take a clasic theme and warp it into something unique, something that is uniquely his. He does the same in this novel, and I am in awe of this talent. But where I can find no flaw whatsoever in Ghost Story there were some oddities (the wrong kind of oddities, heh) in this book that grated on me, for various reasons.

The basic plot is simple enough, since it revolves around the "magician's apprentice" idea. Likewise it's a sort of boys-growing-up story (there were times I had flashbacks to Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is probably the coming-of-age book in weird fiction) as well as a nice insight into the life on a boys' school.

All characters were vividly created and they were actually living on the page (whether they were illusions or real persons in the story, hehe), which was wonderful. The place, Shadowland itself, also came alive and was a marvelous world all in itself.

I also enjoyed the conscious use of elements from fairy tales, legends, lore and other fun stuff blended into the dark labyrinthine tale that Shadowland is. However, too much of a good thing can be, well, too much. And the whole tale-within-the-tale-within-a-tale also was overdone, in my opinion.

The main problem I had, I must admit, was the use of spells from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. I just never recovered from the disbelief when I saw that spell list on p. 148, with levels and all. I am sure it wouldn't be a problem for a reader having no knowledge of the roleplaying game, but I do--and when it wasn't even a point in the story it was simply too odd for me.

The story does seep with a poetic flavor that I relished, and on the whole I enjoyed it very much. But too many-legged without having to be--and with too many important things left unexplained (even vaguely so)--forces me to give it 4 stars instead of 5.
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Reading Progress

02/17/2009 page 25
03/20/2009 page 80 "Took a while before it started grapping me... But we're getting there now;-)"
04/04/2009 page 137 "Keeps getting better!"
04/05/2009 page 157 "It's getting all roleplay-y???"
04/21/2009 page 316 "So far still a very nice read, but I still find that AD&D aspect odd..."
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Christina (new)

Christina This actually sounds rather interesting. Is it any good?

Henrik It took a while to take off, I think, but it's getting better and better. Taking it's time telling the story, but I have a suspicion it all adds to the eeriness, as things unfold. True thrills have to take the time they naturally take; they cannot be forced.

This so far seems like such a book.

Is that an answer?;-)

message 3: by Christina (new)

Christina I think so, yes. :-)

message 4: by Christina (new)

Christina I didn't quite get what was wrong with the spell list from AD&D??
And seems like it is in other aspects a great book since you give it 4 stars anyway!

Henrik It is a great book. But I emphasize in my review why I cannot give it 5 stars. And it's really a strong 4 stars, since it is judged by the standard of Straub's own Ghost Story, which set a very high standard, I can tell you.

The problem with the spell list from AD&D is, well, that it's clearly a spell list from AD&D, but AD&D doesn't feature in the book in any way. Except for this spell list--which in the story is a sort of "mystical class preparation list" for the two boys on their way to meet the magician uncle at Shadowland. That was simply too odd for me. And to see those spells used (albeit not, ahem, spelled out that way) during the story was weird too. For me, anyway. I am sure it's simply because I saw this aspect and that it didn't make well enough sense for me in the context of the story and the plot. No more, no less. Hope that made sense of sorts, Christina:-)

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