Abhinav's Reviews > Greatshadow

Greatshadow by James Maxey
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Aug 30, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, rebellion-solaris, dragons, ghosts
Read in August, 2012

You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:

http://thefoundingfields.com/2012/08/...

Shadowhawk reviews the first novel of the Dragon Apocalypse series by James Maxey.

“It’s very rare to find a novel packed to the brim with heart-pumping action, laugh out loud humour, and a protagonist who wants cake. Greatshadow is a brilliant book.“ ~The Founding Fields

Its not often I come across a novel that makes me giddy with laughter in the middle of some tense scenes between characters, when everything depends on what one of these characters will say. Pharaun Mizzrym in the War of the Spider Queen novels comes close but doesn’t quite hit that mark. Same for Matt Forbeck’s cast in his Brave New World trilogy. James Maxey hits that right note perfectly in Greatshadow though, and it is highly entertaining when he does it. He handles both action and humour with an experienced, natural hand that makes you wonder at how good he is. This novel was my experience of his work and in a nutshell, I really want more.

The novel starts off with a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in an Indiana Jones movie: Stagger and Infidel escaping a tribe of pygmies that have made a (somewhat) dormant volcano their home, poison darts flying all around the two of them. It is a great beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the novel, as every crest in the pacing is marked by action scenes and every trough is marked with sadness and pain. Stagger dies of his injuries during the escape and it falls to Infidel to carry on his memory. But there’s a catch: Stagger survives as a ghost who haunts the knife, his knife, that killed him and which Infidel now carries as a token of him. From there on, Greatshadow is all about dragon hunts, knights in shining armour, religious fanatics, sorcerers, ogres, time-travelers, shape-shifters, ghosts, and dragons. I went in with some reservations but the novel put me at ease from the beginning itself and then continued to hold me until I turned the last page.

The characterisation is where I was ultimately sold on with Greatshadow. Infidel, Stagger, and the three Goons are wonderfully realised three-dimensional characters who make the narrative their own, as if they are grabbing a bull by its horns. The novel is all from Stagger’s point of view, often in first person, so we don’t get to spend much time directly exploring the other characters, but his unique position as a ghost allows him to see a lot that goes on regardless. Infidel, a woman with an uncertain and mysterious past, is the charm of the novel. She is tough, thinks for herself, doesn’t have to resort to leveraging her sexuality, and has great lines. Her motivations in joining the hunt to kill the primal dragon Greatshadow are described best in her own words when she tells one of her companions that all she wants is a palace full of servants and cake (paraphrased). She isn’t a stone-cold character however, because Maxey allows us to see her vulnerable side through Stagger, in the scenes where she mourns his death and wonders at the possibilities that could have been between the two of them were he still alive.

Stagger is defined very well by the nickname he goes by, for it is not a “just so” nickname. He is a man who was conflicted by his feelings for Infidel when he lived, and is still conflicted in death. He staggers along his feelings, exploring them haphazardly, but he gets there in the end. The knife that binds him to the mortal world is a great device for Maxey to show off his world-building and raises questions about the dominant religion in the world, as well as what happens to those who die: do they linger on like Stagger or do they willingly go off into the unknown of the spirit world. Stagger made for an excellent vehicle of that exploration. Through his alliance of convenience with Relic, a mysterious sorcerer who is the only one who can see him, Stagger gets to know himself, Infidel, and the rest of his companions.
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08/20/2012 page 37
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