Book Review – The Outstretched Shadow [Obsidian Mountain]

3 stars. Mercedes Lackey teams up with James Mallory for the epic fantasy series Obsidian Mountain. Young Kellen Tavadon, son of the Arch-Mage of the city of Armethalieh, is an indifferent student of magic at best, and largely ignored by his father unless he’s at the receiving end of a list of filial shortcomings. He discovers three books of Wild Magic that feels natural and right to him, and that leads him to banishment and confrontation.

The strength of The Outstretched Shadow lies in its characters and its strong world, especially the creative system of magic. The characters are likable and realistic (with a few cookie cutter exceptions such as Kellen’s father), and even though the high fantasy creatures are archetypal, they are made interesting through persona and actions. Even the baddies, the Endarkened, are interesting in a gruesome sort of way. I especially liked the different types of magic that the authors present, and the totalitarian city of Armithalieh is a great concept.

The plot is pretty standard for the genre–the Endarkened threaten the world, hero must go on a quest to shoot a proton torpedo into the weak point, just like Beggar’s Canyon back home destroy the curse at a largely undefended chink in the armor that could have been totally foreseen. It hints at much more epic quests to come, setting the series up nicely for more adventure.

The Outstretched Shadow could have been substantially improved by some judicious editing. Many sections of the book inspire absolute tedium, saying the same descriptions over and over again, or describing Kellen’s inner feelings. And he’s a confused, scared teen for much of the book, so those inner feelings get rather melodramatic. Minutiae about Armethalieh is commonplace, so it took me a few weeks of off-and-on reading to really get into anything happening in the story. The authors are guilty time after time of “tell instead of show” and the work really suffers for it. I’m glad the authors’ characters and world were interesting enough to warrant their muddled prose (and I haven’t noticed such issues in Lackey’s past writing, just saying).

A creative high fantasy driven by Lackey’s talent for good characters.

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