When I picked up the first book of James Maxey’s new “The Dragon Apcalypse” series, I thought it was going to be a continuation of his “Dragon Age” novels, or at least in a similar vein: standard but enjoyable epic fantasy in third person perspective.
I could not have been more wrong. Not only does “Greatshadow” take place in an entirely new universe, it is also in a totally different and much more enjoyable writing style.
This is honestly one of the more bizarre fantasy novels I’ve read in my time, probably second only to anything by Glen Cook. The story centers on Infidel, a brigand and treasure hunter so named because of the religious fanatics who would mysteriously pop up every few months to try to assassinate her, screaming “Infidel!” all the while.
Reckless and headstrong, Infidel possesses superhuman strength and is almost indestructible. One of the most amusing early scenes shows her ripping the arm off a giant to beat him to death with it.
But although Infidel is the main character, the story is not told from her perspective. The book is written in first person from the perspective of Stagger, a ghost bound to her knife. In life, he had been her closest and only friend, and the book begins with his accidental death. He loved Infidel but never had the courage to tell her, which may explain why his spirit stayed linked to her. Stagger’s voice is witty and sardonic and is one of the key things that makes the book so amusing.
Heartbroken over the loss of her only friend, Infidel seeks to start a new life for herself, and to that end, she joins a mission to slay Greatshadow, the primal dragon of fire.
Her companions on this mission amount to the most bizarre superhero team in history, including a nameless telepathic hunchback, an albino spymaster and his dream-conjured assassin/concubine, a lesbian ice ogre priestess, a man who can accomplish nearly anything by lying to the universe, and the “Three Goons”: a man-skunk named Reeker, the deformed brute No Face, and a shapeshifter known as Menagerie.
Each character is incredibly colourful, entertaining, and well fleshed out. If I have a complaint about the cast, it’s that the book is not big enough to give each character the attention they deserve.
“Greatshadow” is a completely off the walls and over the top book, and it’s often impossible to take it seriously when one ridiculous calamity immediately spirals into another. To be fair, I believe this is intentional, but even so, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes for an exciting page-turner, but on the other, it can sometimes feel rushed or smack of “trying too hard.”
But for all its swashbuckling, gory battle sequences, and wry humor, “Greatshadow” is, at its core, a love story. Normally, I don’t enjoy romance -based stories, tragic or otherwise, but I did find the story of Stagger and Infidel rather moving. Afraid to confess their true feelings during Stagger’s life, the barrier between life and death prevents their love from ever being fulfilled, but yet Stagger is forced to continue on, watching the life of his love play out beyond his reach. So close and yet so far.
“Greatshadow” is a thoroughly unusual book, and while it may not be perfect, it’s still one of the most unique and entertaining reads I’ve had in recent memory.
Overall rating: 9.2/10 Do yourself a favour and read it.
If you’d like to check out “Greatshadow,” you can buy it on my Amazon Affiliate.