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The Licanius Trilogy #1

The Shadow of What Was Lost

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It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs—once thought of almost as gods—were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs' fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion's Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

602 pages, Paperback

First published August 3, 2014

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About the author

James Islington

8 books5,152 followers
James Islington was born and raised in southern Victoria, Australia. His influences growing up were the stories of Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan, but it wasn't until later, when he read Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series - followed soon after by Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind - that he was finally inspired to sit down and write something of his own. He now lives with his wife and two children on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
687 reviews46k followers
May 4, 2023
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

4.5/5 stars

Islington took the best part—and cut all the unnecessary bloating—of Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, maintained the inspirations he got from Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Islington added his own twists and originality into this highly ambitious debut.

Three years. The Shadow of What Was Lost was recommended to me by my co-blogger, TS, for the first time in January 2017, and I have never gotten around to it until now. Honestly, the only excuse I had for postponing reading this series for so long—even though I shouldn’t—was because of the famous cliffhangers endings of each book in the series that I’ve heard of, and I was waiting for the series to be completed. For the past three years, I’ve been hearing that if you love The Wheel of Time and Sanderson’s books, you’re going to love this trilogy, and they’re not wrong. For clarification, I’m not even a fan of Wheel of Time, I have DNFed the series upon finishing the fourth installment, and I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it. I do, however, consider Sanderson as one of the greatest fantasy authors of all time. If you’re a fan of either Wheel of Time or Sanderson’s work, or maybe both, I think you have a great chance of loving this debut; I certainly did.

What I found to be the most impressive in The Shadow of What Was Lost was the level of details, planning, and complexities that Islington has put carefully into his storytelling, and to think that this is his debut and just the first book of the trilogy! The book did start in a similar way to a lot of other epic fantasy series—especially Wheel of Time—but the story did a corkscrew on me relatively faster, and Islington never lets up from there. “There’s always another secret,” Kelsier from Mistborn said, and this seems to be the advice that Islington took into account the most with his plotting. Throughout my entire time reading this novel, I was constantly guessing and theorizing in my head; Islington made sure that with each new answer revealed, more questions will be raised as a replacement. However, what furthered my enjoyment was how everything felt like a gradual process that never felt overwhelming to read. I seriously didn’t expect the story in The Shadow of What Was Lost would become this complex, but I never felt lost because Islington prioritized learning each new element and revelations through his character’s perspectives rather than telling them in an awkward inner-monologue info dump that has happened in many other fantasy books.

I also loved reading all chapters of the four main POV characters, which I realized have started becoming a rare occurrence the more I read. Usually, when I read a multi-perspective narration epic fantasy, there tend to be one or two POV characters that infuriated or bored me; in the worst-case scenario, some even felt like they didn’t need any POV chapters. That isn’t the case here; Davian, Wirr, Asha, and Caeden are all utterly crucial to the overarching storyline, and I had a blast reading every single one of their development. None of these characters were infuriating to read, and the importance of friendship, trust, and loyalty that Islington put into the main character’s motivations felt genuine and believable. These characters are plunged into deadly conflicts of ever-increasing proportion incredibly fast, and almost all of the characters here are morally grey and more than meet the eye; everyone has their own distinctive background, secrets, and motivations that drove them that I immensely enjoyed reading.

“Everyone has a darker nature, Caeden. Everyone. Good men fear it, and evil men embrace it. Good men are still tempted to do the wrong thing, but they resist those urges.”

It’s ridiculously hard for me to recall a fantasy debut that is as complex, engaging, and accessible as The Shadow of What Was Lost. I could mention The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons which I read in January 2019, and that book certainly doesn’t pale in complexity, but I felt that Lyons’s debut was trying to do too much that it loses the necessary quality of coherence. The details of world-building can be ultra-complex and the scope of lore could be massive but in the end, everything’s pointless if your readers can’t understand what’s going on. Thankfully, exposition is one thing that, in my opinion, Islington did extremely well. As I mentioned earlier, in this book we learned things together with the characters who, at first, also felt lost by the barrage of unfolding events. The in-depth and intricate magic system was brilliantly written; the vast scope of the history of the world was implemented precisely. The Wheel of Time and Sanderson’s influences are very apparent in many aspects of the world-building, but I think that Islington was able to successfully made the world of his series felt refreshing and original.

“You can put your trust in something that’s obvious, that’s measurable or predictable - but that's not faith. Nor is believing in something that gives you no pause for doubt, no reason or desire to question. Faith is something more than that. By definition, it cannot have proof as its foundation.”

There weren’t any major issues I found during my time of reading this book, as long that you know what to expect, I do think The Shadow of What Was Lost is a book that can be enjoyed by many epic fantasy readers whether they’re newcomers or veterans of the genre. My minor nitpicks would be that there were a few instances where Islington’s writing felt a bit choppy or awkward in the first half of the book. There were also a few phrases that felt repetitive; for example, the distracting phrases “he/she let out a breath he/she hadn’t realized he/she’d been holding” was repeated four or five times throughout the novel. However, miraculously, the quality of Islington’s prose improved significantly in the second half of the book. Islington has a writing style that’s simple, immersive, and super engaging; it reminded me of the best that Jordan has to offer in his Wheel of Time series IF only he would stop emphasizing repetition, smoothing skirt, tugging braid, and sniffing. Seeing the escalating quality of Islington’s prose in this book alone, I’m sure that the next books won’t have the same minor issue I faced in the first half of this book.

The majority of fantasy debuts I’ve read for the past two years—even those that I incredibly loved—have mostly been pretty straightforward in their narrative. The Shadow of What Was Lost offers a multi-layered and intricate world to dive into; most importantly, it is an immersive, accessible, and superbly entertaining classic fantasy written with a modern narrative. I can’t possibly describe how excited I am to be diving into the next two books as soon as I can; I didn’t plan this, but I’ll be binge-reading this series for sure. Too many questions demanding an answer right now, and I doubt I could be able to concentrate on reading something else until I found all the answers. From the first book alone, I already have a very good instinct that The Licanius Trilogy will end up being included in one of my favorite trilogies of all-time list when I’m done reading it, and I shall proceed to test whether my gut feeling will be proven or not.

You can order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

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Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,535 reviews9,951 followers
February 24, 2021
That was pretty awesome!

I loved so many characters in this book! I can't even begin! I guess Davian, Asha and Wirr are at the top of my list but there are several others.

This is a book about kids coming of age and having to take a trial to see if their Essence (magic) is good enough. If not then they turn you into something else.

Dav is worried because he hasn't found his gift yet and he's afraid. Then all hell breaks loose and people are killed, tricked, lied to, going on journey's, teaming up with mass murderers (or where they) creepy things, and all kinds of this that and the other!

I thought the author did an awesome job building up this world and all of the cray and the characters.

And that ending!!!! I'm really liking this one character and they had to drop that on him! It bettre not continue on into something bad! You know how that goes though. Good thing I have the next book on pre-order.

There is just so much going on in the book but it's not confusing, it's just too much for me to try to explain because I'm not too good with reviewing some epic fantasies. But, it's all good. I think people that love fantasy will enjoy this book and if you think you might not then pick it up from the library first. I took a chance and bought it awhile back and it was a good chance =)

until next time . . .

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,343 followers
February 3, 2018
I received a review copy of The Shadow of What Was Lost in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank James Islington and Orbit Books.

To begin with, I really thought this was going to be a "run of the mill" chosen one in a magic school sort of fantasy adventure. Thankfully only about 5-10% takes place at said establishment and the rest embraced a pretty awesome and beautifully depicted fantasy world. It still gives off the "chosen one" vibe throughout but that trope doesn't bother me if it's done well. Following on from a previous war, magic-wielders are controlled by 4 tenets. 4 rules which limit their power and where and how it can be used. It took a while for me to really appreciate the main 3 characters, Davian, Wirr, and Asha. When I did though, I analysed how they were really well fleshed out especially as they are only in their mid to late teens. They are highly likeable and although they traverse tragic emotional directions throughout, they are a joy to follow. In Islington's debut, things do not always go as planned for anyone, especially the magic-wielding Gifted. There are many deaths, lots of battles, and stalking shadow-beings. There are two types of magic. Essence, which is from the Brandon Sanderson school of magic schemes and a more mysterious, banned art used by the Augurs. We find out more about this later on in the book as a main character learns it for himself. Islington acknowledges himself that he wrote this after reading the Mistborn series and similarities are evident but this isn't a parody or a carbon copy. It's one of my favourite epic fantasy series since The Stormlight Archives and The Faithful and The Fallen which speaks volumes! I'd say that a mix of those two juggernauts of fantasy reading is a good general depiction to describe Inslington's work. Characterisation is strong throughout and even though some individuals' motives are foggy at best it makes for a scintillating reading experience. Characters outside of the main 3 such as Caeden, a powerful young man whose memory has been wiped, Taeris, a scarred mage who has followed Davian's life closely, and Aelric, a fine swordsman really help to bolster the piece.

We travel throughout a good proportion of the world and the cartographed map was really helpful to set my bearings straight to follow the action. At 693-pages this is a lengthy endeavour but I was never bored and in fact, I kept thinking about when I could go back to the story and read it next. This opening in the Licanius Trilogy was a pleasant surprise and I'm sure Islington will become one of fantasy's heavyweights. I'm keeping this review short and not divulging too much information regarding the plot as I don't wish to spoil anything. I will say that when certain characters get split up and then didn't even know whether their friends were still alive that I was gripping the book intensely, glaring down at the pages begging Islington that they will meet again. A book has succeeded for me when it has me that emotionally engaged and engrossed. This is a brilliant opening chapter in what will undoubtedly be a damn fine fantasy series. It's highly detailed, very well written, and although death and gore are frequent, it contains a bit more hope than most stories currently around in this 'grimdark-era' offer. The Shadow of What Was Lost is emotionally engaging and the characters are great to follow, support, threat over, and care about. Now that I've finished this review I can start reading An Echo of Things to Come... this series is that addictive that I just need to know what happens next.

PS. I listened to part of this on Audiobook and must comment that Michael Kramer (The Stormlight Archives) does an amazing job.
Profile Image for Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews.
264 reviews3,952 followers
December 14, 2022
Check out my YouTube channel where I show my instant reactions upon finishing reading fantasy books.

Felt very "so so" on this one, and I can tell that over time this story is going to turn rather forgettable for me. Everything just felt kind of "generic fantasy" to me without much memorable going on. The characters were a bit on the bland side, and while the magic system was quite interesting, it couldn't make the otherwise average book very special for me.

Sadly, I am unsure if I am going to continue on with this series.
Profile Image for Gavin.
884 reviews398 followers
August 24, 2017
The Shadow of What Was Lost was an excellent fantasy début and a great start to an exciting new fantasy trilogy. Reading this actually felt a lot like reading a Sanderson book with a little bit of Wheel of Time and X-Men thrown in for good measure. That might sound a little unoriginal but Islington really made it work and delivered an engaging and exciting epic fantasy story!

The world building and the magic were both strong. There was two different types of magic. Regular Gifted and Augurs. The Augurs were once viewed as near Gods and their ability to read minds and predict the future saw them rule. Since the Augurs were low in numbers they used the regular Gifted to enforce their rule. That worked until the Augurs mysterious powers started to fail them and their decisions became erratic. The populace revolted against the magic users and the Augurs were wiped out and the Gifted bound by the Four Tenants and closely monitored by the new Administration.

The story was engaging and exciting. It was mainly focused around a cast of younger characters in the style of old school traditional fantasy stories but it worked as the characters were an intriguing and mostly likeable bunch. The early focus was on Davian, a student of the Gifted, as he prepared for his final test to see if he was qualified to serve at one of the two remaining mage organisations or if his powers were to be forever bound against his use. From there the POV cast expanded to include a bunch of people we meet along the way. The most interesting of the characters was Caeden, a man accused of a horrific crime and who possesses strange abilities but who has no memories of his life beyond the time where he woke up at the scene of his crime. Like most traditional fantasy stories there was a looming evil presence. This was one in the form of a mythical evil sorcerer who's forces were supposedly bound beyond a magical barrier more than 2000 years in the distant past.

It all sounds like typical traditional fantasy fare but Islington throws in enough twists and turns to keep things interesting plus he has an engaging writing style which keeps this one an exciting read from start to finish. I read in a friends review that the best compliment they could give Islington was that at times it was hard to forget that Sanderson did NOT actually write this one himself. I totally agree with that sentiment!

All in all I loved this one and it is up there among the best fantasy débuts I've read in this last decade.

Rating: 5 stars.

Audio Note: The Sanderson and Jordan comparisons were only compounded by the fact that this one was also narrated by the excellent Michael Krammer. He gave a great performance and luckily we got a story to match his quality!

Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
737 reviews1,259 followers
June 2, 2020
2020 Reread update: [5/5 stars!] Responsible for one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017, I originally reviewed the first two books for a newspaper. I addressed the series as a whole and didn’t have the word count to really delve into specifics of each book. I also averaged my ratings of the two into a 4.5. Not a bad rating, but it didn’t accurately reflect my experience with each book. After finishing my reread in preparation to finish the series, now seems like a great time to update my review.

I loved The Shadow of What was Lost my first time through, but somehow it was even better the second time. I think I mentioned an issue with repetitive word choice near the end to justify the docking of .5 stars, but whatever pedantic mindset made me focus on that must have vanished because I didn’t notice it this time around (and I was looking). I completely loved every single moment. So much so that my re-evaluation places it with a solid 5 stars and a spot on my very conservative all-time favorites shelf.

The book does an amazing job providing that nostalgic classic fantasy/adventure feel. Between the likable nature of all the characters, the lightheartedness of the beginning chapters, and that exciting first spark leading to adventure, it reminded me of the likes of Brooks, Eddings, and Jordan. But it only got better from there as Islington used some cool concepts and concise writing to modernize the story. I love classic fantasy, but find its simplicity something I have to be in a specific mood for. Islington managed to provide the best of new and old. Combine all of that with with a quality Michael Kramer audio production, and we have a winner.

I loved the pacing, the characters, the adventure, the carefully parceled-out information, the twists, the world-building, all of it. The only thing that made it difficult on the first go-round was the similarity of many of the names. It made it difficult and slightly stressful to keep track of everyone. But this time I just kind of sat back and trusted that it would all come together, and that helped a lot. I’m sure these issues would’ve been nil had I been reading the physical copy, but for obvious reasons (Michael Kramer), I sacrificed some clarity for the experience.

Recommendations: this is a phenomenal start to a series that only gained momentum on the reread. I’d hand it to fantasy readers who love that classic fantasy feel, but crave something more complex. I’m reserving final recommendations until I read the last book, but consider The Shadow of What Was Lost an official Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

Other books you might like (yes I'm updating this too):
Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1) by Mark Lawrence The Lascar's Dagger (The Forsaken Lands #1) by Glenda Larke Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) by Robin Hobb The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) by Brandon Sanderson Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Original dual review posted May 15, 2017: 4.5 stars - Review of the first two books (spoiler free)] What started out as a seemingly straight-forward classic adventure fantasy quickly evolved into a complex story with countless dynamics and twists & turns. I ended up liking it ten times more than I thought I would – it’s easily one of the best I’ve read this year.

I wouldn’t call this series an “easy” read, as it required more concentration than average, but it’s certainly worth the effort. I don’t pretend I always knew for certain what was going on when some of the time travel elements were introduced, but Islington quickly earned my trust in his ability to tell a good story and reveal things on a need-to-know basis. Instead of stressing about figuring things out, I finally just sat back and enjoyed the thought-provoking and entertaining ride.

The setting shared similar elements with series such as Sword of Truth and the Stormlight Archives, but they were integrated in a way that felt fresh and original. What’s more, I feel as though the author has barely scratched the surface of what this world has to offer in these first two books. I’m always a sucker for such in-depth world building, so I’m cautiously optimistic the third will blow my mind. It’s not just the world building that makes it unique, but also the overall atmosphere. The power plays and dynamics between the heavy-hitters in this series set an almost tangible ominous overtone. It was fantastic.

My only criticisms (which kept the overall rating from a solid five stars) are pretty nitpicky. The end of the first book had a lot of repetitive word choice that was noticeable enough to become distracting, and I think the pacing could have been a tad tighter. The second book had a bunch of flashback scenes which killed the momentum a bit. Even though the flashbacks usually advanced plot and built character, they made the book feel longer. However, what book two lacked in pacing it more than made up for with an absolutely killer ending. At this point I don’t think it’s fair we have to wait a year before the final book. ;P

Recommendations: As the Licanius Trilogy is responsible for some of my favorite reading experiences of the year so far, I’d recommend it to any fantasy reader who isn’t afraid of a slow-burn plot with lots of dynamics. My recommendation is especially strong to those who love the feel of classic fantasy but want something a little more complex.

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.nikihawkes.com

Other books you might like:
Elantris (Elantris, #1) by Brandon Sanderson Wizard's First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1) by Terry Goodkind The Heart of Myrial by Maggie Furey The Demon Spirit (Corona The DemonWars Saga, #2) by R.A. Salvatore The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
Profile Image for Steven.
1 review
January 29, 2015
I will dare to be the person who does not give this 4-5 starts and I honestly have no idea how this even comes close to that.

It started when people began comparing this book to authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Robert Jordan so that quickly grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, it does not even begin to come close to the standard those authors have set.

I will admit that the book started off quite strong and had my hopes up, but I quickly noticed a problem particularly with the way people spoke. It seems all of the dialogue is written in the form of a giant soap opera where everyone must say "if thats ok with you..." or "if it's not too much trouble" whenever they ask a favor. This is ok one or two times, but it is constant and grows tiresome quickly. Yes, I understand that they want to make sure they are not being a nuisance, but that is only fit for times when life and death are not on the line.

Trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible, there is a scene where the characters are literally running for their life and hiding out for a while thanks to a giant favor owed by a friend, yet the friend, knowing the urgency of the situation still asks them if he could have a meeting in private with the leader..."if it's not too much trouble." They are in way over their heads and could be killed at any minute, yet he wants to know if something as trivial as asking to speak in private is too much trouble?! Priorities

Finally, there is the character of Wirr who is essentially the Mary Sue of this book. Good at everything, has knowledge of everything, and barely phased by anything. The main character, Davian, is honestly the most realistic of the bunch since he has no idea what he is doing and actually has character flaws. If Davian could be considered the most realistic, Asha is where the story actually is interesting and hence why I gave the book 2 stars instead of 1. She is the saving character of the book and I actually enjoyed the scenes where she took center stage.

With that, my review is over and I hope people do not simply brush off my review as the crazy fool who does not appreciate good writing. I understand good writing and this was not it. In the meantime, I recommend The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and The Black Prism by Brent Weeks if you want good writing.
Profile Image for Nicole.
749 reviews1,935 followers
February 19, 2021
I knew I'm going to like The Shadow of What Was Lost but what I didn't expect is loving it so much. If you're a fantasy fan, this book is a must.

I loved the characters. All of them. This book is told from 4 povs and all of povs and their chapters were needed. Frankly, this genre sometimes gets carried away with multiple povs and we see authors adding unnecessary chapters to one of the main characters. This isn’t the case here.
My favorite characters were Caedan (you know how sometimes you find some characters so sweet -in your opinion ofc- that you don’t want anyone to hurt them? That’s how I felt about him) and of course, Devian. We also had some well-written female characters like Kara and Asha.

The world-building was interesting, I was always a fan of “almost a broken barrier keeping the bad guys away”. The history of the world was introduced and integrated in the plot without info-dumping, thankfully. The twists and shocking revelations, guys, take a new level here. And what makes it better? The foreshadowing. A passing sentence you read can carry a whole new different meaning if you reread it after finishing the book.

The addicting quality of this book. Don’t get me wrong, I've enjoyed many HF in the past but even several of my favorites have slow starts. Not here. I couldn’t put it down after finishing the first chapter.

Secrets, hidden schemes, well-written characters, solid world-building, and a very fun story, The Shadow Of What Was Lost is a complex outstanding debut.

I’ll be reading the sequel soon. I read that some of those who waited were confused at several points and seeing the level of details in this book, while not overwhelming, many things will undoubtedly be forgotten.

The last thing I’ll talk about is while this book certainly has things in common with tWoT, it has different vibes. Sure, we have an evil guy and his followers gaining power, a special weapon, a redhead who has more to him, people being wary and disdainful of magic users, etc. Yet, this one is a lot more fast-paced and the characters do not share the personalities of the wheel of time’s. I’d compare it more to Mistborn if I had to, atmosphere wise. It's true that Islington was inspired by many authors -and it shows- but that's not bad at all because the result was unique in its own way.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
719 reviews886 followers
February 12, 2020
Upgrading to 4.5 stars (rounded up) on reread

The Shadow of What Was Lost was easily one of the most impressive debuts in recent years; complex yet well-plotted with incredible worldbuilding and great characters - it marked the beginning of a very promising epic fantasy trilogy.

I first read The Shadow of What Was Lost over 4 years ago when it was still self-published. It came to my attention for two reasons - Michael Kramer narrated the audiobook and more importantly, Brandon Sanderson recommended it. Blurbs were touting how this book will appeal to fans of Robert Jordan and Sanderson. I know that such claims usually needed to be taken with a grain of salt, but I can say that in this instance it was spot on. While I have read and as a whole liked The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, I have to readily admit how much I was aggravated by its bloat and numerous narrative issues. Let's just say that I've even skipped a few books to get to the end, i.e. the last three which Sanderson finished. Even from this very first book of the trilogy, The Shadow of What Was Lost felt like what The Wheel of Time could've been minus all those problems.

The influences and inspiration from Jordan and Sanderson were very apparent from this novel, particularly in the worldbuilding and plotting aspects. However, this is not to say that Licanius felt derivative; it is not, at all. In fact, I would even say that it was incredibly well done. Islington clearly knows how to create a world that truly fascinated with its history and lore, and its dual magic system. Even better, he really knows how to handle the exposition well to avoid the dreaded info dump and keep the readers engaged. You'll have a lot of questions right from the start, and as a reader, you'll gradually learn as the main characters did as each of them was very soon thrown into dire situations and circumstances. The best part was that the intrigue never stops; as earlier questions were answered, more questions will arise. The complex yet tight plotting was skillfully weaved with mysteries and revelations that just never stopped coming. This made the book into an immensely compulsive read, even though it did not have a lot of action scenes. I blasted through this in two days; reread notwithstanding it is still a pretty big book.

I did not know why I initially found the characters being a bit flat, and I wish to take back that statement. I enjoyed my reread more, and it was mainly because of my emotional investment in the characters. The main characters, Davian, Asha and Wirr, are young adults, and thank goodness, they are refreshingly sensible ones. Maybe after having read so much more in the last few years, I've grown to appreciate character work which doesn't aggravate me with silly dramas and plot devices. A lot of the information about the world's history and magic system came about through the characters' perspectives and experiences, which contributed to their development and growth, hence making each character arc distinct, realistic and relatable. Prior to this reread, my favourite character was Caeden primarily because his story was the most intriguing by far, and Taeris whom I found to be a misunderstood and sympathetic character. This time though, I liked each and every one of them, albeit Caeden still retained the top spot for having the most interesting story.

Islington writes in a simple and direct manner, and the earlier part of the novel did feel like a debut with occasional clunky sentences and repetitions. Somewhere around the mid-portion of the book though, the writing started to be noticeably more polished. I hope that this improvement will continue throughout the series, because Islington has a whole lot of story to tell. The ending of The Shadow of What Was Lost was a resounding promise to an even more epic tale to come, and I can't wait to jump in to the sequel immediately.

I would classify this novel as a classic epic fantasy told in a modern voice. As I grew up reading classic fantasy more than three decades ago, this has always been my favourite subgenre. It always feel like coming home to me when I pick up a fantasy book that harkened back to my earlier reading years, and it reminds me of why I fell in love with this genre in the first place. The Shadow of What Was Lost is one of the best debuts I've read that satisfies my yearning for classic epic fantasy stories.

You can purchase this book from: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide)

You can find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,384 followers
April 11, 2020
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“You can put your trust in something that’s obvious, that’s measurable or predictable – but that’s not faith.”

I have been seeing this book for years now and the cover and synopsis always intrigued me. With the recent release of the third book, I knew I had to start this series. My experience reading this had its ups and downs but at the end of the day, I think it ended up being a satisfying read.

The beginning of the book reminded me of the beginning of Spellslinger by De Castell. But this book came out before that one so all is good. But the magical school setting and the way things were heading was very similar until this took a very different epic direction. I think this book still has many tropes and it does take inspirations from many other fantasy books but that does not mean its bad. I have seen this compared to the WoT series and I have not read that one and I do not think I will. There was time travel here and all different kind of complicated stuff that helped making it an interesting read.

The writing is good, I don’t think it was very unique to me, like I can’t point out a paragraph and say this sounds like something Islington would write. The book started good and ended excellent. There was a point at the middle where I unfortunately detached from the story but I could get into it and even enjoy it more after that. It is a dense huge book that can be slow-paced and not very action-packed but all of that being said. It still was very entertaining!

The characters were intriguing. My favorites were Asha and Wirr, although I did enjoy the stories of Davian and Caeden too. The author writes in multiple POVs and it works. If there is something I did not like about the characters it was the names used in the books, I am usually a person who have hard times with names and the author uses similar sounding names for different characters, uses different names for the same character and sometimes call them by the first and last name in the same paragraph and that is just a bookish pet peeve of mine. I heard that book 2 has a glossary and a summary so that definitely is something I am looking forward to!!!

I don’t know if I can say much about the plot, the synopsis gives a good idea about it. Not much can be said without spoilers, there is a prophecy which is a favorite trope of mine and mind-bending plot twists!!

“Everyone has a darker nature, Caeden. Everyone. Good men fear it, and evil men embrace it.”

Summary: I think this is a book that uses tropes but puts the author’s own touch on them. There was a part where I got bored so I can understand some readers not liking it very much. The writing and characters were good and the plot line and planning for the events is just immaculate and amazing. I am excited for book 2 for sure.

You can get more books from Book Depository
Profile Image for Eric Allen.
Author 3 books738 followers
February 25, 2015
This book was recommended to me by Brandon Sanderson at the Firefight release party about a month or so ago while the two of us were mutually lamenting the fact that the Wheel of Time is now over, and, with Robert Jordan regrettably no longer amongst us, no hope of any more stories that take place within the same world. And so I went to Audible and found an audio version was up for preorder, and it just came out earlier this week. Read by Michael Kramer no less. That man can make even the most boring, mediocre schlock sound epic and interesting when he reads it. Anyway, the writing is a little amatuerish, and the characters are somewhat generic, but Michael Kramer tends to add his own little flair of personality to characters that sometimes seem a little lacking in it. Being that this is Islington's first published work, It's very easy to forgive it being a little rough around the edges. Especially since the story itself, and the world it takes place in are spectacularly put together. I really liked this one, despite any minor flaws it may have. You can really tell that the author was influenced by Robert Jordan, but not so far as it feels like a copy and paste like Peter Orullian's The Unremembered was. It's original enough that any similarities seem more like the homages they were meant to be, rather than outright plagiarism like you'd get with someone like Christopher Paolini. All in all, I think this was an excellent effort for an author's first published work, and though there's room for him to improve, it's the beginning of his career, so I can and will easily let him have a little slack, especially since the story was so enjoyable, and the worldbuilding pretty well done. I definitely recommend The Shadow of What Was Lost to any fans of epic fantasy.
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,643 reviews1,511 followers
January 17, 2022
Sale Alert: Amazon deal 17Jan22 $2.99

Buddy Read 6Jan2020 over at

“‘Every man who holds a sword in his hand, holds murder in his heart.’”

I love a good epic fantasy and The Shadow of What Was Lost is definitely that. When I saw in a review that James Islington’s major influences were Robert Jordan and my all-time favorite author Brandon Sanderson, I was ready to put this series on my short list and find a few friends to drag along with me on this journey.


Like most Epic fantasy it takes a while to get moving, there are pieces to place on the board, backstory to fit in, lore to set up, characters to introduce etc. Things like that take time and even though I was entertained I didn’t really excited about the story until about 30% in.

The heart of the story surrounds three friends as they take very different journeys. Davian, Wirr and Asha have been friends for years at the school for the gifted. They are as close as three people can be and know that as the tests come, they’re lives will probably change forever. Still they never could have imagined the journeys they would start.

This is a land where the gifted, people who can use essence and control the world around them, are a step away from being enslaved. Years ago, there was a war that the magical people of the land lost and with those loses came binding that make anyone gift subservient to the non-gifted. Davian has a secret that if discovered would mean death, Wirr isn’t who everyone believes and Asha is about to be pulled from her friends and travel a different magical path altogether.

James Ilslington has built an intricate world full of dangers and scenes that will build on each other until a few reveals at the end of the book they might even make your jaw drop. There is a danger on the horizon that has been building for thousands of years and our group needs to figure out how bad it is and convince others of the danger. Along the way they will meet friends and foes and be forced to grow up long before they are ready.

Caeden is a character that comes into the story later and for me this is really when the story starts to pick up. He is an enigma with no memories of his past, he is a stranger even to himself. It is hard to say which side he will fall on, even he doesn’t know, but as little snippets start to reveal themselves, I believe he by far has the most interesting of the storylines. Will he help with the upcoming war with the strange creatures from beyond the wall, or is he part of them.
“Everyone has a darker nature, Caeden. Everyone. Good men fear it, and evil men embrace it. Good men are still tempted to do the wrong thing, but they resist those urges.

Everything builds until the battle at the end. But this is just the start of the story and with the revelation in the epilogue I can’t wait to jump into the next book.

Much like a Sanderson story there are conversations had that when looked back on throughout the book start to take on different meanings as more of the story is laid out for the reader. Especially at the epilogue I needed to look back through for a few key conversations that took on slightly different meanings now that I had more information. Perception is everything
“I tell you this, I tell you everything—and that’s not safe for either of us. The only secrets a mind cannot give up are those it doesn’t know,” he said softly. “You taught me that, Davian.”

On to the next story which rumor has it builds on this one quite nicely. I’m glad I don’t have long between books as there are a lot of characters and so many things happening.
Profile Image for Stefan.
177 reviews223 followers
November 21, 2017
First comment I have heard about Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, specifically about its first book The Eye of the World was – Lord of the Rings rip-off.
Considering that, by that time, I haven’t read books nor seen theatrical version of them, that was far from the answer I was looking for.
In the meantime I have rectified my heretic ignorance, read and watched LotR and when finally time came for me to read Robert Jordan’s TWoT (which was last year) I dreaded that the series was already ruined for me when I remembered the comment above.
Long story short – no, TWoT is not a LotR rip-off. It is influenced in certain parts of first book, but is far from it. So far that TWoT is now my third favorite series, where LotR is biting dust way behind it.

Now, the first comment I have read about James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost, first book in The Licanius Trilogy, was – The Wheel of Time rip-off.
And I couldn’t have been more excited for it.

This is James’s debut novel, and he isn’t shy showing in it how he was influenced by Robert Jordan.
Two boys coming of age, Davian and Wirr, are students in Tol Athian school for Gifted (definitely a Rothfuss nod there), which is a safe haven for children with distinctive capability in tapping the Essence, source of all living things, and use it for channeling that life energy how they seem fit.
Davian is not very good at it. Actually he hasn’t managed to channel his energy at all since he came in school, and if he doesn’t succeed in it before his graduation, they will block him out completely from the Essence and cast him out as a Shadow, a second rate citizens in this world.
But on the night of his graduation destiny calls, and Davian, with his friend Wirr, has to leave on a quest and discover what is wrong with the prison that holds ancient evil from coming out and destroying the world. Everything just to avoid those finals...
There are many other similarities with many other fantasy books (there’s even a nod to a Shardblade from Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series), which isn’t bad if you enjoyed all those books mentioned above. It’s practically an homage and love letter to all series James was influenced by.

But, also there are many fresh ideas in it that aren’t in any other fantasy books.
There’s a carefully built world, filled with ancient history, legends and myths and fantastically crafted magic system, with abundance of interesting characters and creatures in it.
And that map:


There are also interesting questions he raises about identity and redemption.

‘Every man who holds a sword in his hand, holds murder in his heart.’

If you were stripped off of your memories, while lingering in the world as basically an empty vessel, should you be accounted for actions in your past?
With no opportunity to redeem yourself?
Since you have no memories of your actions, isn’t it a cruel thing to be punished and suffer the consequences for that person who isn't you anymore?
But also, what about justice for those who were wronged by you?
It’s complicated and provocative and I loved it for that.

All in all, great ideas are inside of James’s mind, and I can’t wait to read them in sequels.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews884 followers
August 7, 2020
“We who knew you mourn what was lost. Only a shadow remains.”

[adjective], [adjective], [adjective].* This [superlative] balanced tale is like a fantasy ‘best of’ hit list. A mashup of evergreen tropes combined with [adjective] characterisation and [adjective] worldbuilding. And everything in a whirlwind of action that does not even pause for breath.

There is no warmup. Intense beginning when everything that can go wrong goes spectacularly disastrous and nothing is as it seems just swept me off my feet. There is a decent balance between action and dialogues, and the main story which is anchored in a world which perhaps is more derivative than original, but still - engages the reader.

The main characters, while undoubtedly young, are outlined reasonably well, and each carries his/her own weight. Scarred Davian who cannot use the Essence, once saved, again is forced to flee the safety of a magic school accompanied by a trusted friend, Wirr who nevertheless also hides a dangerous secret. They leave their best friend, Asha, behind believing that she will be safe. Inadvertently, they place her in a beating heart of danger.

All this happens in a society that hates the gifted, those who can do magic. This hatred is bread on fear. This is why the gifted are shackled by ruthless Tenets, rules that bound them, that make them something in between the inferior citizens and glorified slaves: sometimes useful, but always suspected, always deferential. Lowest of all are the Shadows, those who failed the magic trials or who violated the Tenets. shadows are never born — they are made, and this procedure leaves them irrevocably damaged, both externally and internally to remind them what they have lost.

As Davian, Wirr, and Asha stumble from questions to suspicions, avoid decisions and secrets in the midst of intrigues and conspiracies, they discover a danger far more lethal than anything the humankind knew before.

Despite the many breaths various people did not know they were holding (yes, there are lots of those), this is a fast and pleasant read. There are no memorable quotes, no profound ruminations. But the pacing is decent, chapters well-planned, the writing style is reader-friendly, and that is already more than what 80% of current fantasy can offer. Very quickly plotting shows intricate connections between the individual arcs, and although the eternal struggle between good and evil has some Wheel of Time vibes, the spectre of everything being pre-determined does not haunt here. Characterisation is simple but evocative, and the protagonists are layered. In addition to the main trio, there is a wild-card, one Caeden — a young man with a memory loss and a set of surprising skills.

There are only marginal romantic plots, emotional entanglement is merely an ornament (which is good because the romance is on the lame side). This romance is better than Michael Sullivan’s romance (both books are very similar in terms of language, character and targeted audience anyway) so I take it on face value even if it comes across as very juvenile. Anyway, the novel didn’t strike me as a love story, and I liked that this was not leaning too heavily on the sensual thrills to get the story going, to be honest.

I guess my biggest (still not so huge) issue is that things are too easy for the protagonists, not that the protagonists are plot-insulated against sudden demise, but they have it so easy that they are practically spoon-fed all the time . Things like that take the star away. The rest is very nice: the scope and the dynamic of story has not been predictable, the clues are laid in advance and only moderately hidden so you can always play cat and mouse with the Author which is a bonus.

Before I even managed to set my status to “currently reading” (I could not get into The Great Hunt, I finished this book that is very often accused of being the Wheel of Time Lite. But you will not find straightforward imitation here (there is only anecdotal homage to WoT, like the Aryth Ocean, and it reminded me the subtle way in which Mr Jordan tipped his hat to Professor Tolkien). I am relieved to say that James Islington is not a cheap epigone and he has written a book that does not shadow other novels and, to the contrary, outshines them.

* Insert a preferred adjective or superlative here. I noticed that these adjective-driven reviews are immensely popular on Goodreads so let me have a go at one.

Also in the series:

2. An Echo of Things to Come ★★☆☆☆
3. The Light of All That Falls ★★☆☆☆
Profile Image for Deborah Obida.
679 reviews619 followers
August 27, 2019
“‘Every man who holds a sword in his hand, holds murder in his heart.’”

There is nothing we readers love more than when a book exceeds our expectations, and this book did just that. If I had known it was this good I would have read it long ago, to think that this book has been on my tbr since 2017 is sad.

This book is my kind of fantasy. It has magic, battles, great characters and amazing history. Its suspense filled, the pace is perfect, its neither slow nor too fast. The fight scenes were well portrayed. I really like the magic system, its so easy to understand. The magic users store up their life essence, that essence is converted into whatever magic they have. Some of them like the Augurs(the really powerful ones) can draw essence from things around them.

World building and Writing
Nothing makes a fantasy book like a good world building and this book has just that. Despite half of the main characters been on a journey 70% of the book, the author still depicted all the locations perfectly. The book is written in third person multiple POVs of the main characters. Its easy to read and comprehend.

Davian is one of the main characters also among my favourite. He is smart, thoughtful, love his friends and somehow naive which isn't his fault. Let me let Asha do the work.

“Davian is sweet. A little too quiet, sometimes; he gets wrapped up in his problems and forgets he can share the burden. But he’s honest, and smart, and loyal.” She smiled as she talked about him.

Ashalia aka Asha is one of Davian's best friend and the only female among the main characters. Asha is so brave and courageous, I love her so much. She is loyal and when she decides something she sees it true.

Wirrander aka Wirr is Davian and Asha's best friend, the trio do basically everything together before they were separated. Wirr is wise and experienced unlike Davian. He is a bit of a pessimist and cynic with good reason.

“Wirr is loud and brash. He’ll sometimes act before he thinks it through, but then is clever enough to fix whatever he did wrong before he gets in too much trouble. He’s funny and good at…” She gestured vaguely. ���Well, he’s good at everything, truth be told. And he knows it. He’s not arrogant, mind you, but he’s more confident than anyone has a right to be.

Caeden is a mysterious character and a weird one thrown in the mix with the above. The boys found him in the worst place possible. To make matters worse Caeden don't have any memory of who is was or is. I like that he didn't let that stop him from been the best person he could be. He is fiercely loyal to his new friends and would do anything for them.

The only secrets a mind cannot give up are those it doesn’t know,”

The other characters that I adore are Erran, Kol, Essei, Karaline, Aelric and Dezia.

Twenty years ago there was a war between the gifted(magic users) and non gifted. The gifted were abusing their powers and there was no one to stop them. That changed when one man found a way to sanction their powers, limit its usage and strip them of their powers.

Present day now all gifted people are kept in a kind of boarding school they are not allowed to leave without permission, also a group of people known as administrators can tell them what to do due to their tenets which all gifted have. They can't even use their powers for self defence. Every few years a test is done to know how powerful a gifted is, if he or she doesn't pass the test their powers are stripped and they become a Shodow, that's what they are called.

Davian, Wirr and Asha are gifted in a school. The above three are friends. Davian isn't sure he'll pass the upcoming test, so when an opportunity to get away came he took it, Wirr went along with him. On the way they met Caeden who has no memory of who he is.

The boundary that seperated their world from the Shadowland is weakened and the creatures that live there want nothing more than to destroy the people on this side. No one believes the gifted, they saw it as a deception on the side of the gifted to get back in power.
Profile Image for Jody .
202 reviews141 followers
March 25, 2020
"You can put your trust in something that's obvious, that's measurable or predictable - but that's not faith. Nor is believing in something that gives you no pause for doubt, no reason or desire to question. Faith is something more than that. By definition, it cannot have proof as its foundation."

A stunning debut filled with a rich history, fantastic characters, and masterful storytelling. The beginning is a bit slow, but Islington does a great job of building the story throughout the book. Once this gets it's hooks into you, hold on for one hell of a ride.

The history in The Shadow of What Was Lost is one of the driving forces to the story. It is peeled back layer by layer over the course of the book. And while it seems simple enough at first glance, it is deeper and richer than you might think. As revelations unfold and secrets are revealed, it becomes clear that everything may not be as it seems. The title of the book is a clear indication of what lies between these pages. The question is can it be regained and what price will have to be paid in order to obtain that which was lost.

You can't have a truly epic fantasy series without great characters. Well, no need to worry here. Islington has crafted some well-rounded and very detailed characters. Like the plot of the story, the characters are introduced at a steady pace. You're not overwhelmed with 15 different names to remember from the first few chapters. However, it does get more complex as the story unfolds. There are a lot of names and places referred to in the last half of the book that are unfamiliar. This does make it a little harder to keep up with everything that is going on, but it is not overly done and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story.

I love how certain characters seem to be tied to each other or events that transpired. While most series give you one or two great characters, The Licanius Trilogy has numerous POV's that could stand out in almost any other series. The main story is focused around Davian, Ashalia, Wirr, and Caeden. I liked all of them well enough, but Caeden seems to be an anomaly I can’t quite figure out. He will be one to definitely watch closely going forward. The character introductions start out simple enough, but as more characters are introduced and events start taking place the stories pace really begin to take off. All of the side characters were equally well done. Islington did a great job of incorporating their personalities into the story and making them just as important at times.

I’m sure most of you have read the blurb for this series, “Fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will find much to admire.” I have yet to read any of Jordan’s work, but I can agree with the remark about Sanderson. At least for this first book in the series anyway. Islington definitely has down the characterization, great storytelling, and history Sanderson puts into his books. Now, to find out if he can keep it up in book 2, and an amazing conclusion in the final book. So far, The Licanius Trilogy has my full endorsement, and I believe all fans of fantasy would find something here to enjoy.

"Every man who holds a sword in his hand, holds murder in his heart."

Actual Rating: 5 stars *****
Profile Image for Mike's Book Reviews.
149 reviews6,220 followers
August 24, 2020
Full Video Review Here: https://youtu.be/MzTIf7jOMdo

It's rare when a first-time author comes out and totally kills it on his first novel...that is 700+ pages. But James Islington has done just that. In The Shadow of What Was Lost, Islington has created a world with a background and history as intriguing as anything I've come across in modern fantasy. Full of darkness and mystery, it has you wanting to know more and more about this world the more you learn of its history.

Following the experiences of four POV characters, we go on an adventure that continually bucks the modern fantasy tropes without doing it just to do it. More than once I found myself wowed by the turn Islington takes these characters and the pain and triumphs he puts them through.

Adding in an extra layer to his already deep magic system was a wrinkle I haven't seen too much in fantasy and it's very much a welcome addition. The comparisons to Wheel of Time seem very unfair to me as the use of magic is about the only comparison I can find. It's very clear Islington was a Brandon Sanderson fan because, while he might not be as good of a writer as the Lord Ruler, Licanius certainly feels like one of the worlds crafted within the Cosmere.

Forget what you've heard, because there isn't another series I can compare to this. It is not like Wheel of Time, Mistborn, or any other established series out there that people keep throwing out in regards to it. It is very much its own thing and well worth your time. The epilogue is one of the best I've read in all of fantasy and made me pick up book 2 almost immediately.
Profile Image for Jack.
Author 5 books133 followers
June 21, 2017
A new Fantasy series that is being compared to the venerated, though highly divisive, Wheel Of Time series? What what! Sign me up please! I actually hadn't even heard about The Shadow Of What Was Lost until I saw it popping up on various feeds and getting pretty decent reviews here on Goodreads, and since my local book club was due for a Fantasy read, I made sure that this was the one we selected. We normally have a 2 week read cycle, but because this was over 700 pages, we decided to give ourselves a month of reading time before we discussed it.

I finished it in less than a week...

So yeah, I obviously enjoyed it. It's hard for me to really find time for a good solid read anymore, especially one as dense as this. And even having it on an e-reader still doesn't guarantee that I'll have enough time to truly "burn" through a book like I used to when I was younger. But somehow this one kept me firmly engaged, and I managed to find plenty of reading time. After trying my best to read outside of my traditional comfort zones for the first half of the year, it was nice to get back to a good, solid Fantasy tale. And what a tale this is! But, I guess the real question is: does the first entry in the Licanius Trilogy stand on the same pedestal as the peers it is being compared to, namely epics by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson?

My personal answer to that is no, not quite. It does, however, come very close. And as a debut novel it is pretty damn solid, and very well thought out. But I can't in good conscience say that it is "my new favorite Fantasy series" as is being touted by other outlets. To be fair, folks who enjoyed WoT or Sanderson's various Fantasy series absolutely will find much to love with The Shadow Of What Was Lost. There's familiarity here, like slipping into well-worn slippers or a comfy t-shirt (which works both for AND against the story). The framework is such that you have a basic understanding of the whole, even if the rather numerous moving parts are slightly different than what you're used to.

As befitting of a series with this much going on, The Shadow Of What Was Lost is a third person tale told from numerous viewpoints. This helps to provide a larger sense of scale, as the protagonists of the tale are generally not always in the same place, so we get to see events play out on a grand stage. And like I said before, much of it is familiar. We have the plucky, reluctant hero who has a power he shouldn't, his best friend who is harboring a rather large secret, a friend/love interest who has a much larger role to play than initially suspected, and an amnesiac cipher with his own strange abilities. That said, the characters themselves are interesting enough, and richly drawn enough, that they manage to remain compelling, and while the archetypes themselves aren't anything new, the way they are integrated into the tale keeps them unique. Well, almost...

Ostensibly the "main" character, Davian is perhaps the one that suffers most from Fantasy deja-vu. We've seen this "chosen one" character before, and as such, of the four primary POV characters, he is probably the most familiar, which does tend to make his chapters less exciting. I liked him well enough, as he has some truly enjoyable "I can do what?!" moments as he discovers more about his abilities, and he had some genuine "grey area" moments that made him more than just a heroic "do gooder". While his heart is in the right place, I definitely sense that he's going to have some moments of conflict in the next two books. Still, he's a worthy and stalwart friend, and is a great surrogate for us readers as we, through him, learn more about the world he inhabits.

Wirr, as the best friend, was actually more engaging for me. I liked his twist in the tale, and he was more of a realist than Davian. There is much "real world" weight on Wirr's shoulders, which ultimately made him more relatable. But for all the responsibility he was born into, he still has a roguish side that shines through sometimes. If Davian is the Rand of this tale, then Wirr would be Mat. My favorite part about Wirr though, and by extension Davian, is that their friendship never really wavered. Davian is struggling to understand the implications of all that is happening around him and his friends, while Wirr just wants to the right thing, even if that's not necessarily the most popular thing. But even if they have differing opinions, their friendship is always solid and dependable. Their early adventures are some of the most enjoyable passages of the whole book, and really helps cement their relationship.

Caeden, as the amnesiac, is really best left alone for fear of spoilers. He had the least amount of page time of the main POC's, but certainly had as large a part to play as Davian. To be honest, I wasn't terribly invested in his struggle to regain his memories, as he was such a cipher that he wasn't terribly engaging. He has a few cool moments, but those get overshadowed by a lot of pages of "not knowing who I am or what I stand for" blandness. In fact, I had kinda written him off, but there's some shenanigans that happen near the end of the book that really impact his character, and his part to play in the ongoing drama. Nuff said there.

By far my favorite character, and the one that also frustrated me due to lack of answers, was friend/love interest Asha. I think she's introduced in a way that tricks the reader into thinking they know how her character arc will go. And that was probably done deliberately. Because her part isn't something you see coming, which ultimately makes it that much more enjoyable. While Davian, Wirr, and Caeden have their moments of character growth and introspection, Asha truly has a definitive "arc" in this story, and is no longer the same person she was at the beginning of the tale. It's a believable progression, and makes her that much more compelling. However, there is a mystery around her character that doesn't get answered in this first book (that I noticed anyways) which was rather frustrating. In addition to a GREAT scene near the end of the book, Asha also gets some cool companions of her own to interact with that give the story that much more depth.

Aside from the many POV characters, we get quite a supporting cast, which is where things get really interesting. Nearly half of the named people that our protagonists meet in this first book have their own agenda or role to play in the growing conflict, and their motivations aren't always clear. This is a source of some of the book's best drama, but also a lot of its frustrations as well. Since nearly everyone has their own secret motivations, and since those motivations don't always align with those of our heroes (or even the villains necessarily), it can get kind of confusing following all the move/counter-move subterfuge going on. Like one of the characters said in the recent Free Fire movie, "I forgot which side I'm on!". I felt that way several times throughout the book, as there was so much name dropping that I truly forgot who was who at times, including what side they were on (if they were even on an established side). Part of that might be debut novel inexperience, but I think an equal part of that is that there's just so many characters, and not necessarily enough time spent with them to help them stand out. But they are characters that you want to revisit, which keeps the enjoyment factor high.

Another point of frustration is that we get a few side characters who get rather limited page time, but are more interesting than other characters who are around more. If these characters don't make appearances in the next two books, I'm going to be severely disappointed. Especially when it comes to Breshada and her named sword Whisper. You DON'T introduce a character like that, make her so badass and whatnot, only to have her never make a return. Come on Islington, I'm counting on you here...

On the villain side, we have a range to choose from. There's the ultimate big bad, locked away in his sealed pris...errrr...behind a magical barrier. But the barrier is weakening, meaning his presence is seeping through, which does not bode well for our heroes. We also get varied villainy being performed by different factions that our protagonists face off against. Some of it is effective, some of it induces head scratching. And some were just plain "oh, ok, guess he's a bad guy too!" inclusions that came out of left field. If nothing else, our heroes certainly have to work for every little triumph, which does lend a sense of urgency and danger. Thankfully, the motivations of the villains are generally clearly defined and make sense, so we do get a good sense of why they are behaving as they are.

So outside of characters, how does the book hold up? Honestly, mostly pretty well. The factions, politics, and religions of the world are generally detailed enough to make sense, though I never truly had enough detail to connect all the dots. I'm assuming more will be revealed in the next books, which is fine. I don't need EVERYTHING explained all at once. That said, it was hard for me to really get an idea of where things were in relation to each other. So yeah, a certain sense of scale is lacking. In WoT, Jordan made you feel the great distances involved, where here it's kind of nebulous. At least the reasoning behind the Gifted (aka Essence users) being persecuted is well explained. Still, using a device of great magic to subdue the magic users of the world seems...kinda silly. And kinda lazy.

As for said magic, aka Essence, there's some nifty things that can be done with it, but I don't think the potential has really been tapped yet. The way it works is slightly vague, so I'm not entirely sure what can, and cannot, be done still. And there's another power outside of Essence that has even more potential. We do get some of that explained as well, but again, this book only scratches the surface. I have my suspicions that both of these will get more time to shine in the sequels. I truly hope so anyways. A good magic system can really help enhance a Fantasy novel, so here's to hoping that Essence and Kan (Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!) get their due in books two and three.

There were also a couple of inconsistencies that I hope get addressed going forward. There's some time travel elements in the book that seem to contradict themselves throughout the story, and I have a hard time with that. I'm assuming these will be cleared up as we progress...

Sadly, for everything the book does right, it does an equal amount of things in a fashion that we are already used to. A mentor figure traveling with the heroes, with his/her own agenda, who knows more about the main character than said main character does about himself? Check. Evil quasi-sentient city that the heroes have no choice but to trek through, that ends up having a lasting impact on the story? Check. The majority of the fate changing/world altering heroes coming from the same location (school here, village in WoT)? Yep, you guessed it...check. So if you are looking for familiarity, you've come to the right book. And while familiarity can be a good thing, it also hindered this book a bit for me, as I had too many moments of "been there, done that". With any epic fantasy tale, there's going to be similarities, and I totally get that. However, I guess they were just TOO similar here for my liking.

But it must be said that, quibbles aside, this is a very enjoyable read. And familiarity or no, to Mr. Islington's credit, there were a few minor twists and one MAJOR shocker near the end of the book that I certainly did not see coming. So kudos to him for taking the story in some truly unique directions as the book came to a close. While some of the initial mysteries were answered here, the book does a great job of establishing struggles and questions that need resolution in the sequel, while really setting the stage for the larger conflict that will connect all three books. I firmly expect book two to have a tighter narrative and a more focused progression, now that the exposition and stage setting has been accomplished. And now that he has some experience, I am sure that Mr. Islington will only grow as an author and storyteller. Was it perfect? No, but it was damn good. I will certainly be reading the sequel, An Echo Of Things To Come, when it comes out!
Profile Image for Jade Ratley.
197 reviews2,999 followers
January 21, 2023
8.14 on CAWPILE

I really loved this, not quite a 5 star due to some confusion in the middle for me, but that ending... woah. loved it.
Profile Image for Becca & The Books.
323 reviews6,809 followers
November 20, 2022
A fast paced, intricate adult epic fantasy full of grey morality and unreliable narrators.

The Shadow of What was lost is a story that fantasy lovers have read 1000 times over - a boy from an enslaved class of magic-wielders possesses powers he should not have and sets off with a magical artefact to repair an old magical barrier that is about to fall - releasing hordes of monsters upon the realm. He begins his journey with his best friend, and along the way - his group of companions grows until we are following a ragtag band of unlikely friends.

What made this stand out for me however, is the host of untrustworthy and morally grey characters we meet along the way. I tend to find in fantasy that we know straight from the off, which side is good and which is evil. In The Shadow of What Was Lost, we establish very early on that all of the older characters in positions of power or generally trustworthy roles are all serving their own agendas, meaning that you're never really sure what side you should be rooting for as our host of younger main characters are pushed from pillar to post as they try to the right thing whilst not having a clue what that actually is.
Throw my favourite character Caiden into the mix on top of all of that and this book has the feel of a classic fantasy staple with a slight twist that makes this series feel fresh and keeps things interesting.
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews314 followers
November 22, 2018
I have even more questions now than when I started!!!!
This was brilliant even tho I have some minor problems with almost everything, all in all, it was very satisfying to finally pick a fantasy that just lives up to my expectations.
Ooops... My hands and eyes slipped and I started this, then I stumbled and a fell on my bed with a cozy blanket around me.
When will I stop being so clumsy, :) NEVER
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
January 29, 2018
This is definitely a must-have for all you epic fantasy fans. The build-up at the beginning is good and interesting and puts a lot of the focus on the intrigue and the social injustice, but once the action really begins, it's all beautiful sailing.

So much happens and I can honestly say I love every step of it. We go from the humble beginnings to a truly epic arena in time, power, and action, and we dip our toes in all the great twists of time magic, memory magic, outright masterful draining of the soul-stuff, and to make it all near-perfection, I love all the characters to death.

I got into this pretty hardcore. For me, it's just like reading the new epic Sanderson or Weeks. But then, I love the big action, big reveals, the blow-my-mind magics. :) This has it all. Great writing, great characters, and omg what the hell just happened! :)

It's a lot of fun. I absolutely love all the questions it brings up and how I am so totally hooked as to where this is going to go. It's totally addictive. :)
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,634 followers
December 30, 2016
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/12/30/...

Whenever I hear about an indie fantasy that makes the jump to a traditional publishing house, it always piques my curiosity and of course The Shadow of What Was Lost was no exception. Fast forward to the moment I finished reading the book, and I all I have to say is: I am impressed. This is James Islington’s first novel, and though that sometimes shows in the raw quality the writing, overall it is a solid series opener and I can certainly understand the reason for all the attention and praise.

The first part of the story introduces us to an interesting lore-filled world. Two decades have passed since the Augurs were defeated and wiped out. These were powerful individuals with god-like abilities which they used to enslave the Gifted, other magic users who were forced to serve their stronger masters. The Gifted themselves were only spared retribution following the rebellion because they agreed to uphold the Four Tenets, promising to adhere to the rules which would keep their own powers in check.

One of our main protagonists is a young Gifted named Davian who has always lived in the shadow of the war. He and his friends Wirr and Asha attend a school for those like them, a place where they are sheltered and trained to use their magic. However, even then they are in no way safe. At the end of their time at school, Gifteds are required to pass a final test to prove they can control their powers, and those that fail must face the lonely fate of being ostracized and forgotten—their memories and abilities wiped away. Now Davian’s final trial is fast approaching, and he still has not been able to master drawing on Essence, the element that fuels magic. Worse, he is beginning to suspect there is something wrong with his own gift, which sounds suspiciously like something that the Augurs used to wield.

If anyone finds out about his secret, it could spell very bad news for Davian. But before his test could come to pass, he is visited in the dead of night by a mysterious newcomer, who gives our young hero a quest to undertake that could change his own fate and that of the world.

Reminiscent of Wheel of Time? Definitely. At the same time, I didn’t get the sense that Islington was out to shake up the genre when he wrote this book, and in fact parts of it feel almost like a loving homage to the classic themes in epic fantasy. It was therefore no surprise when I went to the author’s bio and saw Robert Jordan listed among his influences. In a way, there’s actually something very refreshing about Islington’s straightforward approach as well as his unpresuming commitment to simply writing an enjoyable, down-to-earth character driven story. While I read a lot of epic fantasy and it’s always nice to come across something completely new and unique, at the same time I also have no problems with getting a dash of the classic quest narrative, as long as I know that’s what I’m in for.

Many reviews have also made comparisons to Brandon Sanderson, and his name also came to my mind while reading, though probably not in the way you would expect. Islington’s writing, especially the stark play-by-play style of his action sequences, reminds me of early Sanderson, around his original Mistborn trilogy era. The prose is simple but polished, and the characters that range from the reluctant hero to the royal son in hiding are relatively archetypal, but still sincere in their motives and purposes. The page count probably could have been pared down, it’s true, particular in the middle sections where pacing dragged a little. To the book’s credit though, the story eventually evolves into a more nuanced, politically and magically layered narrative. The plot overall might be on the predictable side, but there will still be plenty of surprises along the way to keep things interesting for the reader.

Like I said, The Shadow of What Was Lost isn’t out to revolutionize epic fantasy, but nevertheless it is an engaging read and a series-opener that starts off on the right foot. The story and characters might come across a little clichéd at the beginning, but from what I’ve seen so far, both aspects have the potential to grow into something more. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing even better things in the sequel, which I’m now looking forward to with great excitement and anticipation.
Profile Image for Heidi.
48 reviews9 followers
December 30, 2014
I don't really write reviews, but I feel compelled to write one for this book. The basic components of this story are fascinating. Truly. In outline form, I can see it work. There are clear Jordan and Rothfuss influences in this book (and probably Sanderson too, though the only books of his I've read are the last few WoT books he wrote with Jordan).

But the book itself was not very good, to put it plainly. It could have been such an excellent read, except the author was unable to weave all of the components together to make it compelling. The characters were not engaging. The places were nondescript. They traveled everywhere but I still have no idea what their world looks like. The scenes themselves were often unrealistic. This book could have been so much more. I get so disappointed when a fantastic story ends up ruined due to bad storytelling.

This isn't to say that I won't finish the trilogy. I haven't decided on that yet. But I just couldn't bring myself to give this even 3 stars, despite the story's promise. Here's hoping that the author's next round will have a more developed telling of the story.
Profile Image for Olivia.
724 reviews120 followers
May 29, 2020
4.5 Stars. Almost five stars if it weren't for some minor bits that I found repetitive.

I loved this book. I had a ball reading it. I devoured it in a few days. I did not want to put it down.

It starts out as a straightforward, classic fantasy adventure. Youth finds out he has the ability to wield a forbidden power and ancient evil stirs at the edge of the map. However, it quickly evolves into a complex tale with countless twists and turns and a bunch of lovable characters.

My main issues with the book were minor ones. You can tell this is James Islington's debut. If you're a seasoned fantasy reader, you will spot repetitions and moments where the pacing is off. Nothing bad, just something that shows, yes this is a debut. Like everyone speaking softly for example and that you never really feel like the protagonist is in true danger, and that he keeps passing out.

Caeden is my favourite character. They're not all as well developed as they could be, but it's only the first book in a trilogy...there's time.

The world building is intriguing, and I loved the extensive back story Islington built. The magic system is fascinating. I've seen the book compared to the Wheel of Time series, and I can imagine this is how it must have felt to read those first few books back in the early 90s.

It's not a difficult plot to follow for fantasy fans, but it does require some attention. I do think it's a great introduction to the genre for non-fantasy fans and would (obviously) recommend it to all fantasy fans.
Profile Image for Pat the Book Goblin .
423 reviews131 followers
March 14, 2018
I picked up this book because I heard so many good things about it. I read rave reviews and only saw a few bad ones. So, without reading any of the bad reviews thinking some people hate just to hate, I began reading it. Ermegerd! So bad! I went back and read some of the bad reviews I overlooked and I also hate this book for the same reasons they do. For once the bad reviews were right!

So, I was always taught to give bad news in a big sandwich. Give good news first, then the huge chunk of bad, and end with some good. So…I’ll try.

The story was very interesting at first. The beginning grabbed me like no other book has this year. Davian is one of the “gifted” who has his trials the following week (or whatever) and he hasn’t tapped into his power yet and fears becoming a shadow. Shadows are people who are cast out because they don’t fit into the world’s society. They are like the factionless. But one of the Elders is like “No, your trials aren’t in a week but tomorrow” SURPRISE!!! Now go smack your head against a wall cuz your life is over! Welcome to the shadow world! But NOPE! a stroke of luck saves Davian and his prison/school/tower is attacked and everyone dies except him…ok…convenient. And oh, another survivor joins him and they flee. Trial escaped!

Ok, now the bad! First, James Islington is a Cook, not a Chef. A “cook” writer is someone who takes elements of a story and throws them in a book to make a story. A “Chef” writer, like Sanderson, Brooks, Asimov, etc, are writers who come up with something totally new and different and deliver it with mouth watering goodness! The Shadow of What Was Lost was not just a “cook” book but, worse of all, a book that stole elements from video games and other books.

This book stole the basic storyline from Dragon Age Origins. In the video game mages are taken from the world once they are found (children or adults) and taken to a tower which becomes their school/prison. (Just like TSOWWL except they are called “Gifted” not mages). They give some of their blood for tracking reasons incase one of the mages decides to escape (In TSOWWL they have bracelet trackers so they don’t escape). In Origins, there are these class of warriors who are known as the Grey Wardens who have the power to take down the Archdemon (In TSOWWL the Augurs have the power to destroy evil and bring order to a world of chaos). One of the mages becomes one of these Grey Wardens because he has the Talent for it (In TSOWWL Davian is an Augur who brings back order to the world). Later on in Origins the tower gets attacked by blood mages and everyone dies (In TSOWWL the tower and almost everyone in it gets destroyed by mysterious murders). Ok, see where I’m going? Now if there is a war later on between the "Gifted" (who were oppressed and hated for what they are) against a world who hates them then it is JUST LIKE DragonAge Origins.

Islington also brings elements from Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time books. “He’s the next Robert Jordan, Tolkien, Sanderson!!” Ummm…no, not even close. Sorry.

Next up on the chopping block is the dialogue. What the heck was Islington thinking? This shouldn’t read like damn soap opera. Everyone is so nice to everyone with their “oh, I’m so sorry” or my favorite “Is that okay?” I have no qualms about manners but seriously dude, if things are as bad as you say they need to get to their mission and worry about hurt feelings later!

I also didn’t get a sense the characters were in any real danger. Crap was swirling around them and nothing really bad happens to them. Also, what is up with getting locked in a room with two other dead people and no reaction what so ever! If any normal person were locked in with two dead bodies they'd be freaking out! Work on your realistic reactions Islington.

Lastly (because I need to read something good after this and I don’t want to go on anymore), I thought writers were supposed to show, not tell? Islington is a master of just telling the story and not showing. For example, “Taeris moved with a speed that Davian would not have credited him with had he not seen it.” What?? Umm…you’re a writer I assume so why don’t you show what that looks like!

This was a book that made me think, “Is anyone else reading the same thing I am? If so why does this have such great reviews?”

“But this is a debut novel!” No. It is a plagiarized book standing on the legs of great video games, and other books in order to be noticed. If you were thinking of reading this read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson or anything else instead of this book. Don’t waste your time.

Alright, now end with a positive…well…if you run out of toilet paper you know what to use! There, ending with a positive!
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