Saturday, September 16, 2023

Book Review: "Curse of Shadows" by AK Wilder


Kim Falconer  is taking a well-deserved break this month, but here at Supernatural Underground HQ we're keen to celebrate her wonderful writing.

So although Kim will be back with her "More Than Meets The Eye" post series (which we've all been loving!) today we're featuring a review of Curse of Shadows, the recently released second novel in her Amassia series.

Book Review: Curse of Shadows by AK Wilder

Reviewed by Helen Lowe

I enjoyed Crown of Bones, the first book in AK Wilder's Amassia series, but I think Curse of Shadows (Amassia #2) is an even stronger story.

The author writes as both AK Wilder and Kim Falconer. As readers here will know, Kim and I both post on Supernatural Underground. So I'm signaling upfront that we are friends-in-writing and fellow bloggers, "for the record."

What The Amassia Series Is All About

In Crown of Bones (Crown), Ash and her comrades traveled far from home and discovered that all life on their world of Amassia was threatened by the return of a binary star. Now, finding and learning how to use the crown of bones is vital in order to have any hope of survival, but because of its power, a large number of players are competing to find and control it. They include nation states and mages (called savants), but also the mysterious, ocean-dwelling Mar, with both magical and military forces being deployed to find and seize the crown.

The personal journeys of Ash and her savant companions are set against this backdrop of world-threatening events. Savants gain their power from raising "phantoms" that are usually animistic in form and reflect an aspect of the savant's being, which is key to their power. Ash has been raised a non-savant and trained as a cleric, but at the end of Crown, readers learned that she is, in fact, a savant, with a very powerful phantom. One that has been deliberately suppressed by her guardian and mentor.

When the story resumes in Curse of Shadows (Curse), both Ash's phantom and her memory of its rise have been magically suppressed for a second time. The cracks, though, are showing. Marcus, Ash's  childhood friend, also has struggles of his own. He has been disinherited and exiled, yet must continue to lead their company's quest for the crown of bones. As if that's not enough, Marcus struggles to manage his phantom, which is also extraordinarily powerful.

Similarly, the mysterious Kaylin, who saved and befriended Ash in Crown, is also striving to comprehend, and either fulfill or circumvent, orders that conflict with their friendship.

The world of Amassia

Although there are other characters in their company, as well as allies like the powerful, but also changeable, Mar called Salila, the storylines (or "arcs") of Ash, Marcus, and Kaylin drive the Curse narrative.

What I Liked in Curse of Shadows

"Almost everything" is the short answer. Despite the problems they confront, returning to Ash, Marcus, and their company---both savants and phantoms---felt like re-encountering old friends. Although important in Crown, Kaylin has a larger part to play and more point-of-view time in this book, as does Salila. Both are interesting and engaging characters, but their larger roles also deepen the story and the reader's understanding of the world.

The story, too, is a really fascinating one, with its interweaving of magical, ecological, and SF-nal elements, and Curse---unsurprisingly---enlarges on the foundations established in Crown. In doing so, the author expands the worldbuilding, which was an element I particularly liked. The ecology and landscapes are really different from Western European fantasy norms, and the societies and cultures reflect a similar diversity.


Where much of Crown was a pursuit, and accordingly raced along at breakneck speed, the pace of Curse reflects the company's mission to build alliances as well as having to hunt out the crown's component bones. I like the deepening of both world and characters that Curse's storytelling focus allows.

What I Didn't Like

Well, "nothing, really." :D The only point I remain unsure of is why Ash's guardian and mentor is so determined to suppress her phantom --- which may be because I've missed a crucial detail, or because all is yet to be finally revealed in Book 3. Needless to say, when that happy day arrives I shall be eager to read on and find out more.

Ash and Kaylin


If you enjoyed Crown of Bones, or books such as Kate Elliott's Cold Magic, Brent Weeks' The Black Prism , or Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, then Curse of Shadows may also be in your reading wheelhouse.

I read the hardcover edition, 403 pp, published by Entangled Teen in December 2022, which was a gift from Kim (the author.) My only regret is that I haven't managed to read it and post here a whole lot sooner, because I feel the book merits the attention.


AK Wilder
About The Author

Kim Falconer, currentky writing as AK Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series. Currently, she is working on the third book, out in 2024.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site

Friday, September 1, 2023

The "Band of Brothers" -- A Few More Fantasy Favorites!

So far this year I've talked bands of brothers -- and sisters -- and how they lie at the heart of the Fantasy genre, as well as scooby gangs, the much-loved bromance, and sister acts. Last month, I also honed in on when brotherhoods and bromances go bad -- and although not nearly so many, they're definitely there in the genre.

Brothers in arms
This month, I'm going to share a few more favourite brotherhoods and where to find them, i.e. characters and books I have not yet mentioned in any other context. My plan is to feature some older and newer titles, starting with a subtheme of bridges...

The Bridgeburners that is, in Steven Malazan's Gardens of the Moon, which is the first book in his ten part series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The series has a ker-zillion characters and many bands of brothers, of varying degrees of hero to anti-heroism, but Captain Whiskeyjack and the Bridgeburners are my favourite. They're a very-rough-around-the-edges company of veterans who have been assigned a suicide mission to destroy infrastructure inside enemy territory. For my money, they're a quintessential "brotherhood" in the best epic style. If that kind of storytelling is your jam, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

The Bridge crews, or Bridgemen, in Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, Book One in the Stormlight Archive series. The Bridgemen are slaves, whose job is to carry wooden platforms (bridges) to wherever the armies they serve are fighting on the Shattered Plain, enabling the fighters to bridge the chasms that criss-cross the terrain. A former soldier called Kaladin turns his crew into a well-disciplined tight-knit band, which eventually becomes the personal guard of the army's overall commander -- although there's a lot more to it than that, of course!

Another of my favorite bands is the following that Hari (Harimad-Sol) pulls together in Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. Perceiving a gap in her country's undermanned defenses against a demonic foe, Hari defies her leader and cobbles together an unlikely "band" of allies, comprising personal friends, enemy soldiers (think British soldiery like the Corp of Guides in colonial India), and legendary archers -- as well as fighting cats and warhounds.

No one does a Band of Brothers / Scooby Gang quite like Tamora Pierce, but the first I encountered was Alanna and her friends in The Song of The Lioness quartet. Alanna's 'gang' comprises Prince Jonathan and their page and squire friends, who grow up to become a true "band of brothers", fighting and serving together. It also includes less likely allies such as George Cooper, the Rogue or prince of thieves, and Sir Myles, a scholar knight. 

Although the star-crossed romance between Karou and Akiva is the heart of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone (and the subsequent books in the trilogy of the same name), I've always liked the brotherhood between Akiva and his fellow seraphs, Liraz and Hazael -- especially when his love for Karou tests their warrior bonds.

When it comes to sisterhood, it's hard to go past Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education, and sequels in the Scolomance series. El, Aadhya, and Liu, and later Chloe, form a tightly knit unit to try and ensure their own survival and that of their fellow students. It's a kind of counter-culture on Harry Potter and Hogwarts, but in a world that is far darker and more dangerous from the outset.

From older titles to new, one with blue in its name but none -- so far as I know -- borrowed, if you haven't read 'em all already, I hope you find something to like. :-)

I'll be be back again on 1 October. In the meantime, read on! 


About the Author

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


Previous Posts:

February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"
March: Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2
April: Celebrating the "Scooby Gang" #3
May: Celebrating the "Band of Sisters"
June: From Band of Brothers To Bromance!
July: Sister Acts: from the "Band of Sisters" to True Sisterhood
August: When Brotherhoods -- and Bros -- Go Bad!