Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review of Shiloh, by Helena Sorensen

Goodreads Summary:

In a world of perpetual darkness, a boy is born who wields remarkable power over fire. Amos is no more than seven when he kills a Shadow Wolf and becomes a legend in Shiloh. He would be destined for great things were it not for the stories his father tells about a world beyond the Shadow and a time before the Shadow. Only madmen hold to such tales, and in Shiloh, they have always come to bad ends.

Amos is fearless. He walks with easy confidence, certain that the Shadow cannot touch him. Even his family is in awe of him. His father marvels at his skill with the bow, his mother thanks the gods that he has all the courage she lacks, and his sister, Phebe, worships him for saving her from an attack of the Shadow Cats.

On a trip to the village of Emmerich, Amos rescues the Magistrate’s son, Simeon, from the village bullies. Simeon, fair-skinned and pale-eyed like other Dreamers in Shiloh’s history, becomes Amos’s constant companion and dearest friend. Simeon becomes a part of Amos’s family, listening to fireside stories told in a way he’s never heard them before and learning to wield a bow and arrow.

The year the boys turn twelve, they are itching to prove themselves. An impetuous plan to steal a beautiful lantern goes miserably awry, and the lantern’s owner prophecies that Amos will be devoured by the Shadow. For the first time, a seed of fear is planted in Amos’s mind, and when his father is killed by a Shadow Wolf on the last day of the Great Hunt, the fear takes hold. If so great and brave a man as his father could fall to the Shadow, what hope has he?


I received a review request from this author a while back. (I'm embarrassed to admit when.) I started it shortly after it showed up in my inbox, but every time I picked it up, I couldn't bring myself to read more than twenty pages at a time. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that I promised the author a review, I probably wouldn't have finished it at all.

I'll start by saying what I liked about Shiloh. Stylistically, this book is good (minus a few instances of purplish prose). I liked how all of the characters, including the main characters, spoke with peasant accents. (You always see minor or supporting characters with accents, but never protagonists.) And I liked Simeon, Phebe, and Isolde. (The description makes it sound like Amos is the protagonist, but that's not the case--which is a good thing, because I found Amos flat, boring, and unrelatable.)

Now here's where I list the problems:

First of all, I was incredibly bored. Stuff happened. Sometimes. But there was very little by way of I-need-to-know-what-happens-next tension. Up until the last 60 pages or so, there wasn't much of a plot. No stakes. No goals or obstacles. The characters were basically just going about the motions. And when something cool did happen, it was either rushed or skipped over. (A fight with a dragon! Why didn't I get to see the fight with the dragon?)

There was also the mythology problem. There were far too many myths and stories and songs (see this post), and it finally came to the point where I was skipping over all of them. If it's not immediately relevant to the story at hand, then it needs to be condensed as much as possible.

There was also the fact that this story covered too large a timespan. It starts with a seven-year-old who kills a Shadow Cat. I don't care how much of a special snowflake he is, I refuse to believe that a seven-year-old can accomplish something like that. Did he have to be seven? At the very minimum, I would accept twelve. (And yes, the story could have easily been edited so that Amos started as a twelve-year-old and still finished the story as a teenager.)

I was also confused about a lot of the worldbuilding and magical elements (ie, the whole deal with the Hall of Shadows). Oh, and the "perpetual darkness" part. Like, how "dark" are we talking? The story references the absence of a sun, but that can't be possible--the descriptions are all very visual, there is a distinction between night and day, and the characters are capable of embroidery, fine metal forgery, and distinguishing colors. From the way I pictured things, it couldn't have been worse than rainy-day grayness. But if that's the case, where is this light coming from? It can't all be from campfires/lanterns.

So overall, I'm sorry to day that this book was not successful for me, and I apologize to the author for taking so long to review it.

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