Charles's Reviews > Silk Roads and Shadows

Silk Roads and Shadows by Susan Shwartz
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2014-challenge, fantasy, stat_2, reviewed, favorites

Stuff I Read - Silk Roads and Shadows by Susan Shwartz Review

I picked this up at a used book store mainly because I like historical fantasies. And this book, probably more than any other that I've read in the sub-genre, fits that description. Because unlike many historical fantasies that involve fantasy allegories for real historic places (think Guy Gavriel Kay), this book actually takes place on Earth in the past in actual historical settings. Okay, maybe not actual ones, because some details are altered and there are still very strong fantasy sensibilities at work, but still, it's Byzantium and the Middle East and China. The fun and the joy comes from watching Alexandra work her way through this historic setting, take charge of her destiny, and come out stronger and more kick-ass than ever.

Part of what I liked about the book, after all, is that it is told with a female (the sister of the Byzantine Emperor) main character who is smart and in command, who moves through this male-dominated world with such authority that basically everyone she meets is forced to acknowledge her power and skill. Not to say that she's this ass-kicking machine that just beats people up, or that she doesn't suffer from moments of doubt, from danger, from having to depend on others. But through everything she retains her agency, her will, her force. She is powerful, much more so than any of the men she travels with, including her giant Norse bodyguard and more standard fantasy-fare cousin.

Also at play is that the entire book is something of a condemnation of orthodoxy. Alexandra starts the book against her aunt, who has twisted her religion to something dark and evil, who practices dark magic and who wants the throne. Angry at her treatment, and her lack of power, her aunt lashes out at the world, something that makes a certain sense when you examine her options. But as Alexandra saves her brother and then embarks on a mission to retrieve silk worms from China, again and again she comes up against different religions and cultures. And she moves from her own cloistered, Christian past to embrace a more varied view of the world religions, basically that they're all similar, that they aren't that different, that they bind us more than they separate us. It's a nice message when contrasted to some of the religion purges going on in China at the time.

The book also moves. I mean, really, this book gets around, first in Byzantium then through the Middle East, from mountain sanctuary to dessert city, finally to China, then abroad further into mythology itself. And there are constantly threats from magic and human elements. Alexandra finds herself as a sort of Chosen One, but one that makes her own choices. It is great fun to watch it play out, to watch her maturation as she struggles with the ideas and cultures around her. There are just a lot of really great moments in the book, to the point that by the end I was thrilled when she was taking full control of her life. The supporting characters are also very good, and complex, and I just liked them.

I don't think I really have anything else to say. This was a great book. I loved the ending and everything that came before it. It was well crafted and the language and writing were solid and moving. It was a good read, worthy of a great deal of thought, so the best kind of book for me. All that said, I'm giving it a 9.25/10.
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Reading Progress

December 15, 2013 – Shelved
December 15, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
December 15, 2013 – Shelved as: 2014-challenge
December 15, 2013 – Shelved as: fantasy
March 16, 2014 – Started Reading
March 16, 2014 – Shelved as: stat_2
March 16, 2014 –
page 6
1.7% "I like what I see so far, though a bit much to take in right off the bat..."
March 16, 2014 –
page 57
16.19% "Interesting if a bit disjointed so far. The history and fantasy aspects are mixing well, but things happen rather abruptly, and I'm not entirely sure all what's going on. Still, there's a long way to go."
March 18, 2014 –
page 100
28.41% "Still a lot happening, but glad that Bry didn't die. Things are getting weirder, though. Also, undead goat demon was great. That'll teach them for playing polo with its body."
March 22, 2014 –
page 150
42.61% "Still liking this book, even without any more undead goats..."
March 25, 2014 –
page 221
62.78% "Wow, a lot happens in this book. I keep waiting for the norse guy to start letting loose with that axe, though..."
March 30, 2014 –
page 352
100.0% "I liked this book, the combining of actual historical fiction and fantasy, and with a decent message, lyric prose. A lot happens, but it was well worth the read."
March 30, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 31, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
February 20, 2015 – Shelved as: favorites

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