Wednesday, 19 March 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Stefan Haucke - Shadows of Ghosts

“Shadows of Ghosts carries readers to Enara, a kingdom at war with itself, where for centuries centaurs have been treated like animals because of their horse-like lower bodies; they've been forced to work as slaves in the southern agricultural provinces, and have been bought and sold like livestock. But a strong abolitionist faction has convinced many that centaurs' human torsos, heads, and intellectual abilities make them humans, who should be liberated from slavery and granted the same rights as any other person.
After four years of being forced to live in a remote village and having to keep his real identity a secret, Cal Lanshire, days away from his thirteenth birthday, is given the best birthday present he can imagine. He is told he can soon return home.
But then an old acquaintance unexpectedly arrives with news that changes everything. Cal's father, the king, has been assassinated.
Suddenly the outcome of the war and the very fate of the kingdom depend upon Cal being able to reach the capital where he will take his father's place.
With only his crafty best friend by his side and an escaped centaur slave to guide him, can Cal make it through an enchanted, hostile wilderness, past the assassins sent to kill him, and back to the capital before it's too late?”

‘Shadow of Ghosts’ follows Cal and Mont as they set out on a quest to lead Cal to safety, with the guidance of Zinn (Cal’s fathers advisor) and then Ellsben, a trusty centaur. It’s by no means an easy journey, not least because of the urgency of the situation and the war going on. As we know from Stefan’s guest post, the book falls under the fantasy genre but with a lot of historical influences. This provides enough of a resemblance to the past that we know to help us get into the book, it just has added centaurs and that’s never a bad thing.

For me, fantasy isn’t a genre I’ve read much of but, based on this book, that’s going to change. I loved it. It’s very easy to forget just how young the two boys (Cal and Mont) are when reading this and it’s also easy to forget that Ellsben was a centaur, two things that definitely helped me to get into the book. The war in the story is centred around centaurs – those who think they should have freedom and those that don’t. The fact that you read it and forget Ellsben is a centaur tells me that I’d be on the side of those who think they should be free, as they’re no different to humans.

There’s a clear timeline throughout the book which ensures you know where you are and everything falls into place. It also helps to set certain scenes and give you a better idea of how the characters would be feeling – how stressed, tired, weary they would have been, etc. The timeline is proof that the book is well structured which brings me on to the actual writing style. Not once was I bored when reading this, there was tension when there needed to be, excitement, fear, and so many other emotions – all of which were clear and kept you reading more, desperate to know how it ended.

 The friendship between Cal and Mont is very touching – they go through some of the worst things they’re likely to experience together and see some sights that nobody should ever see, least of all two people as young as they. Throughout it all, however, they remain firm friends. The fact that Cal and Mont come from completely different backgrounds is never an issue for them – they hold the same morals and beliefs – and that’s something that people in today’s society (and, sadly, I fear every society to come) could learn from. They go through some extreme things and to some even greater lengths to protect each other and help each other out which is fantastic to read about.

Not all of the characters are so much of a joy to read, however. One in particular, Kozal, is a peculiar character from the moment we’re introduced to him. He starts of creepy but helpful, then becomes a traitor, then becomes helpful again. I’m not sure of this is intentional but, for me, it gave me the impression that this was a way of giving an example of the impact the war (be it fiction or in reality) has on peoples mental states. He was a liar, crazy, and selfish and yet he was also true to his word and helpful.

There were a number of surprises in this book, both with things that happened and also the way in which characters reacted to them. The entire time I read this, I didn’t know what was going to happen; I couldn’t even hazard a guess. That’s rare for me – I’m not saying I always work everything out immediately but I often have a rough idea of the ending. With this, I didn’t; yet another reason to like the book and its structure/writing style.

Based on the blurb, I knew I would enjoy ‘Shadow of Ghosts’ but I never thought I’d love it as much as I did. It’s fantastic! I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of the book and felt like I was on the journey with Cal, Mont, and Ellsben. Although it is a fantasy book, there are certain elements that were relatable and, because of the influence history had on the book, it makes it easier to get into the book. What I would say, however, is there are some slightly graphic moments in the book which you might want to avoid if you’re easily squeamish – I bloody loved them!

*received via NetGalley*

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