TS Chan's Reviews > The Shadow of What Was Lost

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read February 8, 2020 to February 9, 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.
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Quotes TS Liked

James Islington
“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.”
James Islington, The Shadow Of What Was Lost

James Islington
“All that I wanted, I received
All that I dreamed, I achieved
All that I feared, I conquered
All that I hated, I destroyed
All that I loved, I saved
And so, I lay down my head weary with despair, for;
All that I needed, I lost”
James Islington, The Shadow of What Was Lost


Reading Progress

February 18, 2015 – Shelved
February 18, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 21, 2015 – Started Reading
October 25, 2015 –
32.0% "Engaging plot thus far.. And a lot easier to read after coming off a Malazan book."
October 28, 2015 –
75.0% "This is getting harder and harder to put down."
October 28, 2015 – Finished Reading
February 8, 2020 – Started Reading
February 9, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee You had me up until the Robert Jordan influence bit, then all I could think of was Ais Sadai and that's that.


message 2: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan Lee wrote: "You had me up until the Robert Jordan influence bit, then all I could think of was Ais Sadai and that's that."

LOL!! Well that's probably the only bit that was not present in this book. Else I'd be ranting already.


message 3: by Audrey (new) - added it

Audrey When I finished the second trilogy of powdermages I will dive in this one. Great review TS as always


message 4: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan Audrey wrote: "When I finished the second trilogy of powdermages I will dive in this one. Great review TS as always"

Thanks, Audrey! I read and reviewed this ages ago when it was still a self-published title.. and now the final book will be coming out next month. I definitely need a reread.


message 5: by Audrey (new) - added it

Audrey I didn’t know it was a self published book at first


message 6: by Audrey (new) - added it

Audrey Began this books this week and it’s an impressive debut indeed. Honestly I don’t want to sleep until I finish it lol


message 7: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan Audrey wrote: "Began this books this week and it’s an impressive debut indeed. Honestly I don’t want to sleep until I finish it lol"

That's good to know! I love this kind of epic fantasy the most. It has a classic feel but written with a modern voice.


message 8: by Robin (new) - added it

Robin (Bridge Four) oh. I'm reading this series too. We did this book last month and then Echo in Feb and finish out in March. Definitely grabbed my attention in this one


message 9: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan Robin wrote: "oh. I'm reading this series too. We did this book last month and then Echo in Feb and finish out in March. Definitely grabbed my attention in this one"

I'm enjoying it more on my reread. And the Jordan influence/inspiration is even more marked this time around. Not a bad thing cos he's able to make it very engaging.. minus the bloat and the problematic stuff that WoT had.


Petrik Great review, TS! Haha I love how we say the similar things even though we write our reviews without checking each other's! xD


message 11: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan Petrik wrote: "Great review, TS! Haha I love how we say the similar things even though we write our reviews without checking each other's! xD"

Thanks, Petrik! Hahaha, great minds think alike ;)


ChopinFC Awesome review my friend! I tried the audio books because of Michael Kramer who was amazing but unfortunately the book did little for me. 😥


message 13: by TS (new) - rated it 5 stars

TS Chan ChopinFC wrote: "Awesome review my friend! I tried the audio books because of Michael Kramer who was amazing but unfortunately the book did little for me. 😥"

Thank you, Rod. Sorry it didn’t work for you though. 🙁


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