“Twenty years after the Unseen War, powerful mages known as Augurs are no longer so powerful. They have been stripped of their standing in society and their powers have failed them. In their place are mages who possess the Gift, but their rise is only a result of the strict rules called the Four Tenets—not unlike Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics—under which they must operate. Though these Gifted individuals are able to use their form of magic—the Essence—they are not looked upon with great favor by society at large. Unfortunately, the world is still under threat of attack from those on the other side of the Boundary, a dark army sealed nearly two thousand years prior to the novel waiting to escape and reap their revenge. As the novel begins, characters are concerned that the Boundary is not going to hold for very much longer. Against this backdrop, the lives of young Davian, Wirr, Asha, Dezia, and Caeden unfold under the auspices of the school for the Gifted where many of them meet. Although using the term school might be generous since the ‘students’ are afforded too much freedom as their Administrators watch over them.”
It’s the usual stuff.
Islington devotes a great deal of the novel to providing background information about his characters and the depth of history of his world. The connections between the characters and that prior history is revealed over the novel’s nearly 700 pages giving a great deal of detail to them. Each of the primary characters possesses a mystery or secret about them, they aren’t exactly what they seem. Adding to the “secret mystery” is that most of these primary characters have meagre memories of themselves, only going back to just before the novel began.
While some of the characters and mythology in the novel felt as if they had some meat to their personalities, others were not quite as developed. The weakening “Boundary” was continually referenced, but through most of the novel, the consequences and threat lacked urgency. There was no “why” to the threat.
Having read many epic fantasy novels and series, “hints of things to come” in later volumes is to be expected and probably part of why longer series are popular. However, the balance between those hints of something substantive being revealed in later volumes and revealing information in the immediacy of the current volume was uneven. The character’s journeys also suffered from a sense hollowness. They were told to go places, but the destination wasn’t always clear and the reason for their journey wasn’t always clear.
Unfortunately, too much of the nearly 700 pages of The Shadow of What Was Lost was world-building and showing what the characters were rather than getting to know who the characters were. So at times many times) it was difficult to get into the novel.
In the end, The Shadow of What Was Lost offers some promise, but is ultimately patchy like so many debut novels.