Title: Skein of Shadows
Author: Marsheila Rockwell
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Skein of Shadows is a tight, fast-paced quest set in a world of dwarves, earth dwelling elves, wizards, living constructs, shifters, dragons, highly evolved spiders, and various classes of demons among others. The story follows Sabira, a human marshal with a magical sword, on a mission underground into Tarath Marad to find Tilde, her old flame, Ned’s sister, who is missing after going into the caves with thirty men. None of them came back.
Nevertheless, Sabira, like all heroes in traditional fantasy, is happy to take on ridiculous odds. She enters Tarath Marad with a small motley band of fighters that she picked up along the way, and it soon becomes clear that even if they manage to find Tilde, getting out again is extremely unlikely. People die, some retire wounded, but Sabira goes on, driven by the need to cleanse her conscience and repay her debt to his family after failing to prevent Ned’s death at some previous date.
Sabira’s main companions are a dwarf with a magical charm bracelet and a not entirely trustworthy guide. Their journey through the caverns has them battling human foes, creatures that are a kind of cross between spiders and humans, and murderous magical mushrooms. Added to this is a prophecy which, like all good prophecies, needs a bit of working out. The pieces only fall into place at the end of the book, just before the inevitable battle to the death with the evil queen(ish thing).
The end has a nice twist that left this reader happy and showed that Sabira had grown from her experience. It’s a well-written book, with strong well-rounded characters and a plot that keeps you reading—a great read for lovers of traditional fantasy. A touch of humour lightens the load of the terrible odds stacked against our heroes and stops the book imploding under its own weight like a lot of heavy fantasy.
The only difficulty I had with Skein of Shadows was the plethora of strange names thrown at the reader early in the book. Coupled with a dearth of description, I didn’t get a good feel for the setting until we got to the outpost at the entrance to the caverns. Plot wise, I also felt that Sabira found her ‘men’ too easily and that they were too willing to go into a place that was clearly a death trap. Do people (sentient machines and assorted creatures) really risk almost certain death for money and the thrill of adventure? In this book they do. Regardless, it’s a great book if you’re looking for action in an exotic setting. 5 stars.