Contrarius's Reviews > Shadow's Son

Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk
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's review
May 13, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: fantasy
Read from May 10 to 13, 2012

I wanted to like this book. Really, I did. I read it for a fantasy book-of-the-month group, and Jon Sprunk seems like a nice guy, and I've got nothing against fantasy-assassin lit, but…Shadow's Son is just badly written. Really badly written. Bad.

I'm not going to post any big spoilers here without spoiler tags, so don't be nervous. But, in order to demonstrate the pervasive badness of this book, I will be posting some short quotes and such. Don't worry, I won't ruin any important surprises.

Now, you ask, in what ways was this book bad? Well, if I went into detail about each and every instance of badness in the book, I'd be here for a long while. So I'm going to narrow it down quite a bit and just present you with a few examples. Please don't get the idea that what you'll see here is the sum total of the badness, 'cause it ain't.

1. tired and trite prose. AKA "how many cliches can we fit in one book"?

Throughout the text, readers are constantly forced to read old, used up, unimaginative expressions, again and again. We have such moldy gems as "moth to a flame", "bone dry", "thin veneer of civilization", "safe from harm", "beat him bloody", "cut and run", "didn't sit right with him", "couldn't make hide nor hair of it", "tender mercies", "you've got enough on your plate", "too good to be true", and even the classic "it is what it is". And many many others. In fact, we have entire paragraphs similar to this:

"He could always cut and run . Kit would be thrilled . But it didn't sit right with him. This had gone far beyond a botched hit. Somewhere along the line it had become personal for him."


2. logic failure. AKA "where was the editor when Sprunk needed him"?

Several spots in this story either produced head scratches or even outright guffaws. SOMEBODY should have caught these gaffes.

A. Willful ignorance --

Our hero, Caim, supposedly has "shambled memories" and isn't really sure which "border state" he comes from -- even though he knows the name of the city he escaped to when his family was killed, he was already 8 when they were killed and should know where he lives by that age, he has a spirit friend who has known him since early childhood, AND one of his father's own soldiers fostered him until he was 13. What -- do these people never talk at all?

In another section of the book, two important things about Caim's heritage are revealed -- (view spoiler). It's quite obvious that Caim should know at least one of these facts, given the factors mentioned above; the spirit and the father's soldier would both certainly have known them.

B. Physics 101 --

At one point, Caim has been shot with a crossbow bolt in the chest. He's fully dressed at the time, so presumably the bolt punctures through his clothing. Nonetheless, he is able to "peel off his tunic, careful to not jar the shaft of the bolt". You wanna try peeling anything away from around a bolt without cutting it, especially given that it's gonna have fletching on the end?

In another scene, Caim is crawling through horizontal chimney ducts -- which are constricting enough that he must travel on his hands and knees. At one point, a vertical drop to a fireplace opens up before him. There is a fire in the fireplace, sending blazing hot air up to the duct. This fireplace flue is described as being 5 paces across. Caim LEAPS ACROSS THE FLUE -- FROM HIS HANDS AND KNEES. Now, in case you aren't aware of this, a single "pace" is roughly 3-5 feet long, depending on whose definition you are following. So 5 paces equals 15-25 feet. And Caim leaps across it -- over a blazing fire -- from his hands and knees. Um. Yeah.

And then we have the infamous sword-on-the-back trick. Near the end of the book, Caim is carrying a longsword in a sheath on his back. And he draws it. In the middle of battle. Without taking the sheath off his back first. Just how long are his arms? I've seen calculations about how long a man's arm would have to be in order to accomplish such a feat, and they are pretty impressive.

C. Instant healing --

The crossbow bolt mentioned above nearly kills Caim. In fact, he strongly believes he is dying at the time. Nonetheless, only 1-2 days after being shot, he is up and scrambling around rooftops and hoisting our heroine (Josey) over walls. Oh, and fighting six swordsmen. All without the benefit of any sort of magical healing.

In another section of the book, one of the bad guys is badly burned in a fire. But about two days later, the burns are described as "waxy scars dimpled his face". After two days??

Oh yeah, and another instance -- and this one I do have to spoiler -- our heroine Josey (view spoiler) Nuff said on that one.

3. General silliness. AKA "Really??".

A. One of the bad guys, Levictus, is depicted in one scene as standing on a rooftop. After he vanishes into the shadows (his favorite means of travel), he leaves the carcasses of a dozen headless pigeons behind. Really? What is this, Jack of Shadows does Ozzy Ozbourne?

B. In one scene, Caim and Josey leap into the ocean, with their arms wrapped around each other. DURING the leap, Josey takes the time to feel Caim up. "She clutched Caim about the shoulders, and let her fingers roam over the play of powerful muscles beneath his black shirt." Really?? In mid-leap??

C. Caim is a professional assassin, and certainly should know how to kill a person quickly and silently -- for instance, slitting throats works quite well most of the time. And he routinely carries two long knives, amongst other weaponry. Nonetheless, in one scene he chooses to strangle a sentry with a leather cord, requiring several minutes and a big struggle to kill the guy.

"Caim slipped the cord around the guard's neck and pulled tight. His arms were nearly wrenched from their sockets as the man lurched forward. The guard kicked and grunted like a wild animal. Caim slammed a knee into his back and hung on. If not for the key, which Caim gripped like a garrote handle, the cord would have been ripped from him. As it was, the loops of leather sawed into his left hand until he started to fear he might lose the fingers. The sentry stumbled to the wet grass and Caim kept up his hold, and it was a lucky thing because his victim fought for a good long time. Minutes passed before the guard was still. Caim stood up, a little shaky. His hands and wrists ached like he'd been wrestling a bear."

Really?? He is sneaking into a castle, and this is how he chooses to kill a guy??

So, in sum, in case you couldn't tell by now -- I just couldn't get past the writing in order to appreciate what story there was. So far as I can tell, the plot was also pretty silly, but I won't take up any more space to deal with its particulars.

I'm giving this book 2 stars, mostly because I try to reserve 1 star reviews for books that really offend me in some manner. And although this was silly and in some cases painful, the story itself didn't really offend me much, aside from offending my suspension of disbelief. Let's call it 1 1/2 stars.

Oh, also -- I have heard from a few people that the second and third installments of this series are substantially better than the first. But they'd have to be a LOT better for me to get seriously interested in spending more time with them after this one. For my money, people who are interested in reading about fantasy assassins or related characters would be much better off with something like the Vlad Taltos series, or Among Thieves, or perhaps the Farseer books.
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Reading Progress

0.0% "This'll be up next after Tiassa. For a fantasy-of-the-month discussion on another site."
10.0% "Dangit, now I'm back to blunt basic prose, not much better than Flewelling. I'm kinda spoiled now, after Brust's intelligent and zippy writing. Sigh."
40.0% "I'm having trouble remaining open minded about this book, because the writing is just SOOOO BADDDDD. Sigh. The author seems like a nice guy, too...."
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Melinda (new)

Melinda It sounds more like a Robert E. Howard, Conan novel,or any other of his pulp fantasy novels where men with big muscles and washboard abs do simply outlandish things. Burt's that's half the beauty of pulp novels, they don't take themselves all that seriously - which was the mistake of the one you read. Sorry you had to suffer through it. Read some Howard as a distraction. There are so many to chose from. It's hard to make a recommendation without knowing your tastes. Or you could try some Rafael Sabatini (it's free in e-book), he has a beautiful command of English and his adventures are wonder (except for the Strolling Saint). Give either one a try - they may do you good. You can look at my ratings and make a decision. Good Luck and happy reading! Melinda

message 2: by Ed (new)

Ed [Redacted] Damn, that's a shame, I was looking at this in the near future too.

message 3: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat I love the flue leaping from an all fours position. Pity it's too late to add it as an event to this years olympics ;)

Contrarius Melinda wrote: "It sounds more like a Robert E. Howard, Conan novel,or any other of his pulp fantasy novels where men with big muscles and washboard abs do simply outlandish things. Burt's that's half the beauty ..."

Melinda -- several times throughout the book I was thinking "if only this story wasn't taking itself so seriously!" -- at some points it was right on the edge of self-parody. And yup, I've definitely got Sabatini on my TBR pile. :)

Ed -- many people have enjoyed this book, so don't give up altogether. Download the free sample from Amazon, and see what you think of it.

Jan-Maat -- that was one of my guffaw moments. I couldn't even leap 2 feet from all fours, much less 15!

[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] You know, I enjoyed this way back but your review is spot on. When i read it I never thought it was supposed to be taken seriously.If it is that kinda of sours my opinion of it a bit.

Justin Spot on review. I forgot about the pigeons! I spent half the book wondering about that.

message 7: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven K This is the best review on goodreads I've ever read. Oddly enough, it makes me want to read it just to see how silly it really is. (The feeling his muscles mid leap made me laugh)

Indi What bothered me was one early in the book scene, Caim wakes to the dawn's light - then gets dressed and washes up - then goes outside to night and fog. Longest bath ever?

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