Today we review the last book of our thirty-book batch in the sixth annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off with our fourth semi-finalist Where Shadows Lie. How this book stacks up against the other members of our final four will be revealed on Friday, October 30th.

Where Shadows Lie (cover)The Chosen One is dead. Magic is going haywire. Time is running out.

When the King of Lirin murders Elenor’s brother during a failed coup attempt, she must choose between turning a blind eye to her people’s suffering or joining the rebellion and helping bring down the tyrant king. There’s only one problem—the king is her father.

Helped along the way by a grouchy old doctor, a boisterous group of nobles, and a well-meaning assassin, Elenor is forced to dance between duty and defiance as she tries to save her kingdom.Meanwhile, from the rainy streets of Lirin to the scorching dunes of the Mondaer Desert, the ripples of her actions have inadvertently broken a chain of events five centuries in the making. Ancient forces move in the shadows, calling in debts and striking deals. A monster with a thousand faces fingers his knife, ready to kill, and a pair of fugitives run for their lives.

Palace intrigue is the primary focus of this superb epic fantasy with a large and diverse cast. A failed coup attempt by Elenor’s brother, the crown prince, thrusts her into a maelstrom of political machinations involving her scheming mother, her sadistic father, a bitter rebellion leader, and friends both treacherous and loyal. An ancient mage with divided loyalties, the head of an organization that can best be described as a private university and world bank rolled into one, and a cadre of dragon deities round out the players in this particular game of thrones.

Magic abounds in a unique magic system that incorporates a variety of magic wielders, some with a broad range of abilities and others whose magic is limited to one specific talent. Oh, and let’s not forget the dragons! There are the aforementioned divine dragons, mundane wild dragons that will eat you, and domesticated dragons that will carry you where you need to go (whee!). All of this is presented in a long yet compelling and well-paced story that spans a continent and sinks its roots deep into the world’s history.

Our Thoughts

Our judges loved the character development, worldbuilding, and political intrigue, particularly since all of it was fitted so well together. Some books pause the story to give you the worldbuilding, but in this one, the character arcs, the world history, and the present action are not only integral to the plot but also equally compelling, drawing you deeper and deeper into a fascinating world of magic and machinations.

Some judges found the central character, Elenor, a little hard to like, as she’s an impulsive teenager ruled by her emotions rather than her sense, but her growth from naïve girl to determined young woman is believable and satisfying. In addition, we get a nice mix of points of view from multiple players in a complex political game. We also liked the diverse cast, which includes people with a wide range of physical characteristics and cultures as well as LGBTQ representation and a main character with chronic pain and mobility problems. Turn-offs included some editorial stumbles and a YA-adjacent style, yet overall, the writing was smooth and engaging. In sum, we thoroughly enjoyed this superb mix of magic and politics.


The first few chapters were fast paced and intriguing, and the reasons behind Wil’s choices in the prologue leave us with exciting questions about the nature of this kingdom and its political system. This book has a lot of great qualities. The story reads very easily and draws you back whenever you step away, while the magic system (despite a clumsy introduction) is fascinating, featuring some of the coolest elements of rift magic and turning it around on itself. I’m always really intrigued by how authors approach the magic in worldbuilding, and this story blends magic and technology the way we use electricity. It’s really well done and feels new and exciting. We have a diverse cast and DRAGONS, so there is a lot to like here for anyone looking for a fresh take on a traditional political fantasy. Did I mention DRAGONS?!

A. M.

Despite some storytelling tics that were mildly annoying (e.g., overdone character descriptions and occasional POV slip-ups), I loved this book and hated putting it down whenever real life intruded. It does have a strong YA feel, as most of the POV characters are in their teens or twenties and they make impulsive decisions based more on emotions than reason. However, a couple older, though not necessarily wiser, characters balance out the young ones, and all of their stories were developed well enough that the characters’ behavior and decision-making felt genuine to me, even if I found it frustrating at times. (I don’t have to like a character’s decisions or actions; I just need to believe that’s what they’d do.)

I also loved the worldbuilding, which was deep and expansive but also beautifully integrated into the narrative. There was a ton of it, told through short excerpts of letters, diaries, and historical texts at the start of each chapter, but none of it seemed superfluous or irrelevant. As for negatives, the text had far too many typos; there was more anachronistic language than I’d like; and the narration would occasionally slip out of third limited and into omniscient. However, the quality of the story itself far outweighed these flaws, and I eagerly await the next book.


I loved the magic system and the worldbuilding. Although Eleanor irked me, even with her personal growth, I loved the flaws of all the characters and their questioning of their role in world. The gods and acolytes were an interesting concept, which I enjoyed and if book two were available, I’d have purchased it straight away.


A thoroughly entertaining read, it’s full of political intrigue and the results of decades of plotting and rebellion. It has the feel of a mystery novel without any of the usual pitfalls. There’s a great deal of magic involved, and of course, there are dragons. The chapter that introduces the magic users seems an abrupt drop into the otherwise smooth storyline. The characters are vividly written, easy to become emotionally invested with, and the reading is smooth. The worldbuilding is detailed, and the types of magic are plentiful and imaginative.

The pacing is fast and slow by turns, the wide cast and their connections aren’t readily apparent, so the reader will have to pay close attention to avoid getting lost in the intricate layers of intrigue. The story will draw you back again and again with the vivid characterization and mystery. A blend of classic fantasy tropes and politics, this book will appeal to lovers of high fantasy.

Total Score: 7.9

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Our judges are A. M. Justice, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Amanda Cenker, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to A. M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).


By A. M. Justice

A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, and an amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. You can follow her on Twitter @AMJusticeWrites.

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