Title: Master of Restless Shadows (Master of Restless Shadows #1)
Author: Ginn Hale
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Release Date: October 6, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, Sword & Sorcery
Page Count: 406
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 1 flames out of 5
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capital of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.
What Narsi and most of the larger world cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.
After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.
When I received this ARC, I didn’t expect much, for some unfathomable reasons. And I was in for a very, very pleasant surprise (mind you, I prefer surprises to be like this rather than the other way around). The plot, split up between several third-person narrators, grabbed me at once, despite the first chapters being almost overwhelmingly complex. But nothing could be more normal: you enter an unknown fantasy world, you need to meet the main characters, you have to understand the undercurrents, the political schemes, and all that goes on behind the scenes. The book starts with freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi arriving in the royal capital Cieloalta to follow his former mentor, Father Timoteo, who is living with Fedeles Quemanor, Duke of Rauma, one of the current ruler’s best friends (he’s also the latter’s cousin). When Narsi arrives at his destination, he stumbles upon Atreau Vediya, a novelist, adventurer and notable lecher, who’s staying with Quemanor as well. It’s the very man who has paid for Narsi’s education back in the day and to whom Narsi has promised he’d find him and pay him back after his graduation. That Atreau has also been his first crush only adds to the tension that builds between the two almost instantly.
It would be too long to go into all the ramifications of the twisted and rich plot, which kept me reading on with bated breath for the entire 406 pages and left me like an orphan when I realized I had reached the end. Luckily this is only the first part of a series that promises to be nothing less than breathtaking. Ginn Hale knows her business. She effortlessly draws a rich and complex world where the past has seen glorious victories, great kings, magic, and vanquished monsters. She juxtaposes this sketchy picture of legendary deeds with a present filled with petty envies and schemings, with easy-to-find scapegoats (does that sound familiar!), ruthless churchmen, jealous and power-hungry royal family members, secret magic-users, lost spells, poisons, enslaving curses, torture, and many more things. What I absolutely loved was that everything had its right place in the story; even the most astounding and unbelievable bits felt plausible and just, with even room for more—I’m quite sure we shall get more in the next books. The romantic subplots are put in place in this one (Narsi and Atreau, Lord Quemanor and a hired, enslaved assassin) and shall evolve, I’m convinced.
The characters feel real (which is something to say for a fantasy novel!), and most of them have hidden agendas and grim and sombre parts, which just add to their intrinsic humanity. No one is solely good or bad, bar a few exceptions (Narsi, for instance, won my heart almost at once by his warm-hearted, outgoing, easy and feeling character). Real life is full of shades of grey (more than fifty at any rate, lol) with only exceptionnally black spots or white flecks. Well, the characters in this book—why, even the faultless plot—perfectly reflect this simple truth. We are sometimes compelled by circumstances to do things we recognize as morally bad (in most of our cases that concerns only small and unimportant things—we don’t have to run a kingdom or a church, after all). That doesn’t necessarily make us bad guys. Did I mention that this book was very well written and perfectly paced? No? Well, now it’s done. Anyway—this was really a first-rate read, and I’m waiting impatiently to read the follow-ups. I need to know how all of this ends, dear Ginn, so please make your quill go faster!
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