The Shadow Soul is one of ten novels in the final round of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) 2016. Updates on the contest’s progress can be found here.

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

I’m going to get this out there right now; I enjoyed this book.

It begins with magic and this is central to the rest of the story. I like the fact that the magic is not explained or constricted by intricate rules, it is a natural aspect of the world. It flows from the characters, more than one, and we learn of it as the story progresses. Never over-powering the story or seeming like an addendum to the book the mage works to give flair and creativity to the characters actions.

I’m also a big fan of the alternative viewpoint structure used in the book; one chapter, alternating, per character and we don’t take any side roads to a different characters. This means we get to see the events unfold from a slightly different point of view and to understand the characters’ interpretations, their fears, dreams and hopes. It works well in this short book.

Rhen is a Prince, the third prince and unlikely to ever take the throne. Instead, he is a wastrel, womaniser, and general layabout. He has a reputation to maintain after all. Yet, this is not his true face nor his true power. Rhen is a spymaster who does all he can to make sure his family and realm are safe. Adding depth to his character is his own grief, secrecy and desire for attention and familial love.

Jinji is young lady destined to be the chief’s wife, gifted with magic from the spirits but cursed to suffer loss and grief in her short life. However, she is determined, strong and seeking revenge. She may hold the key to the upcoming war. Jinji has dreams and nightmares. Are these portents and prophecy or just the result of her tortured soul?

As will be no surprise to a practiced reader, there is a nascent attraction between the two main characters and the author plays on this by having Jinji appear (via spirit magic) as a boy throughout the book. It is all very Shakespearean and similar devices are used to draw out the romance and both sides, even though one of them is unaware (Twelfth Night springs to mind).

And then there is the world the adventure takes place in. It is interesting and there is a sense of history to it. A stock medieval type culture of kings, queens and princes living in a castle built on a promontory would seem to be uninteresting, but it is married with an older, almost stone age culture that exists alongside it. The juxtaposition is interesting. Then there is the enemy who seems to be a pirate type culture except that they live on islands made mostly of precious metals. Ignoring the obvious issues with food, farming and fuel, it all makes for something a little different.

The story does move on apace. There are few wasted lines and no chapters were nothing happens. It all makes for a book that you do not want to put down. I almost put off a necessary journey to finish it.

There are some things that, for me, weren’t quite as smooth as I’d like. First off, the two alternating viewpoints do make for a tight story, but they miss out a lot of the wider world because our two heroes are almost always together, therefore our view of events is constricted a little. Also, some events and scenes are thinly described giving a light and fluffy feel to action occasionally. We miss out on some of the explanations and background detail that would have brought the world and story a little more to life. There are lots of questions posed in the book, but too few answers and that can leave the reader a little lost.

It is also a speedy read, due in part to good pacing, but there is a sense that it is all wrapped up a little two quickly and conveniently at the end, whilst leaving it open for the sequel. I’d have liked a little more build up to the twist at the end, which comes about with too little foreshadowing.

Overall, I’d say this book is an enjoyable example of young adult fantasy. There is ‘that something’ that keeps you reading, yet doesn’t challenge you too much. You can just enjoy the events and story. Some readers might be left unsatisfied, but I was tempted to pick up the sequel there and then…and that has to be something of a recommendation.


By Geoff Matthews

G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read - and now he writes fantasy! Seven Deaths of an Empire coming from Solaris Books, June 2021. Agent: Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency. You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website at

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