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Saturday, October 30, 2010

cover of 'The Wizard's Shadow' by Susan Dexter

This story begins with a wizard being killed, which apparently is quite difficult to do safely. In this case, the people were given very specific instructions: don't spill his life-blood, don't let him speak a curse, don't let him use his hands to work magic. However, there was one thing they didn't account for: as he is bound and dying, the sun comes out and this wizard casts some unspoken spell to free his shadow. Some time later (years, perhaps), a traveling peddler named Crocken passes near the spot where the wizard dies, and he is persuaded/coerced/bargained/threatened into taking on this shadow and carrying it with him to the far-off country of Armyn.

Crocken has a difficult journey to the far-off country of Armyn, with the shadow always commanding him, rushing him on; but it is when they get to the citadel of Axe-Edge that things get really exciting. Crocken sort of accidentally saves one of the princesses, which makes him a hero and gives him more standing than a peddler would normally have. While he is recovering from his injuries, his shadow disappears at night and wanders all over the castle, investigating, exploring, and doing who-knows-what. Finally, Crocken is healthy enough to be presented to the court-- the queen, her son prince Kieron, and the lonely and unpopular regent, Rhisiart, whom the shadow cryptically describes as the one who betrayed him. Rhisiart takes a liking to Crocken, due in part to Crocken's honesty about being a lowly peddler and not even a merchant-- so Rhisiart gives him the title of Master Merchant-Adventurer, which gives him some standing in the court and a reason to stay longer.

In spite of what his shadow says and may intend, Crocken grows to like and respect Rhisiart, who has served faithfully and well as regent, even though the Queen and her family detest him and look to do away with him as soon as Kieron takes the throne. Crocken also meets and befriends an intriguing Mistress Ivy, the handmaiden of Kieron's fianc&eactue;e; with Ivy and his shadow, he begins to discover that there is something wrong about the handsome prince-- he enjoys the bloody violence of hunting a bit too much, and strange sounds come from his bedroom at night (which Crocken knows because his shadow forces him to get up in the night and stand at the door of the prince's chambers so the shadow can stretch underneath). Crocken and Ivy (and the shadow, though Ivy does not know this) join forces to force Kieron to reveal himself in a way that Rhisiart can not dispute-- since Rhisiart has been so adamantly loyal to his dead brother's wishes that he considers any word against the prince an act of treason. It comes off in exciting and dramatic style, although the results aren't exactly what Crocken had anticipated (if he had thought through it at all).

Who the shadow is and what exactly he is after is left intentionally vague for quite some time, but his story is revealed piecemeal-- in part through vivid dreams that Crocken begins to have occasionally after they enter Axe-Edge, dreams that seem clearly to the reader to be someone's memories. Eventually, we discover who the person was that this shadow belonged to, and how he was connected to the drama and conflict of the complicated royal family. His motives and goals remain hazy until, near the end the shadow acts decisively to save someone it seemed like perhaps he would rather destroy.

It's my understanding that Rhisiart (si pronounced as sh, the author tells us) is sort of an alternate-version of Richard the Third, if he were good and honorable. At times when I was reading the book I found myself wishing I was more familiar with the history that it references and plays off of (although I did catch bits and pieces); it seems that it could only be more fascinating to someone more familiar with the historical people that form the basis for the royalty of Axe-Edge.

It took me a while to get into the book (perhaps it was difficult to get involved at first since Crocken isn't terribly likable or heroic at first, and it is suggested that the shadow may be a villain), but from about mid-way through until the end I found myself very much engrossed.

Title:The Wizard's Shadow
Author:Susan Dexter
Date published:1993
Number of pages:277
Notes:loan from Catey


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