The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch
|Book Name:||The Oathbreaker's Shadow|
|Formatt:||Paperbook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Young Adult / Fantasy|
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is a book written by one of the country’s most renowned and talented editors, Amy McCullough of Harper Voyager. That’s right; adviser has become applicant in a bold move that surely places a lot of pressure on her shoulders to perform. You see, over the years Amy has worked on books by George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Raymond E. Feist, and leads the editing process on work by new and upcoming stars such as Blake Charlton, James Smythe and Janet Edwards too! Her job revolves around being in regular contact with these kinds of authors: advising them of their grammar, characters, plots and even marketing prowess.
So, when I heard that she had written a book I was really interested to see how she, as an ‘industry expert’, performed. I doubt I was the only one either; you know the authors under her watch are going to be checking out the ‘bosses’ work. Anyway, here’s the blurb:
Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.
Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all – not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.
Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.
So, yes, when we meet our protagonist, Raim, he is unbearably close to fulfilling his destiny and becoming a Yun Warrior. Since he was a young man he has been best friends with the future king and should he become a Yun Warrior he is expected to be the closest bodyguard to the King – so everything looks rather rosy for him. I wouldn’t say that Raim is ‘cocky’ about that fact, he is actually quite humble, but there is certainly a confidence about him and he has great ambitions and expectation in regards to how his life will play out. So, when it happens, when Raim is shown to have broken a promise and has his future fall from one of guaranteed respect to one of being loathed and wanted dead, it is a truly emotional path that we must follow him on; breaking a promise in the society that McCulloch has created truly is akin to being a spy or murder in our own.
The setting of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is one that a couple of years ago – when the book was released – felt very unique, but today is starting to feel more familiar. This isn’t a bad thing at all, McCulloch’s novel being set in a hybrid-desert society (with strong Persian and Mongolian influences, I would suggest) feels very much like Arabian Nights and it wouldn’t be a huge jump to say that Raim shares many traits with characters from such tales, such as Aladdin. What separates Amy’s setting from the numbers that are filtering in is both the beauty of the description that she offers and its seeming authenticity. Without going into Jordan-esque detail, Amy creates vivid images of the scenery and landmarks you’d expect to see in the aforementioned movies or the Prince of Persia games.
We’ve covered it a little already, but to give some more details on the magic system: as the blurb says, the novel is set in a world where promises can be magically bound by the tying of a knot. Let us say you promise me you will never hurt my family – we cement this promise by performing a quick ritual and tying a knot that you shall wear as a reminder of your promise to me. Where it gets interesting is that if you were to break this promise – perhaps attacking my son – you’d end up with a large scar on your person and a shadow would appear behind you, haunting you, letting everyone know that you’re an Oathbreaker.
I felt this was a great concept, even more so when you consider that the book is for Young Adults. The question of who you make a promise to, what you promise and when – if ever – you can make a promise that will destroy your life, should you break it, is an interesting one that is likely to resonate with younger and older people a-like. All the best Young Adult novels provide a moral dilemma such as this and I think Amy’s encouraging a younger reader to reflect upon their opinions of trust and truth makes this Young Adult more than just a ‘pop’ novel.
I will skip ahead a little, so as not to spoil what happens once Raim breaks this unknown promise. Raim is away from the town and determined to find out what this promise was, who he made it to and get a solution as to how he can prove it wasn’t his fault, that there has been a mistake of some kind. With trust and truth being the main themes of the novel there is plenty of lies and betrayals along Raim’s journey after he has made his decision to get to the bottom of what has gone on. It is a journey that is full of adventure, packed with interesting characters and loaded with revelations that are likely to shock and surprise its young adult audience (less so those adults who have read novels such as A Game of Thrones!).
Overall, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is an absolutely fantastic debut and I can say without a doubt it was one of the finest debuts of 2013. My hope is that once this ‘duology’ is complete, Amy takes an even bolder step to writing a longer novel with a deeper, more complex plot aimed at adult fantasy readers. I think that if she chooses to shed the YA genre’s constraints and can combine her literary and descriptive abilities with a complex plot we’ll all be treated to her full abilities as a writer. That said, this adult can’t fricken wait for the sequel!