This is the first of two reviews today, as it is my stop on the blog tour for the second book in this series – and so I wanted to share this review of book one first. Where Shadows Lie is the first book in The Last Gift series, and a book that had been on my TBR for a while, and which time did not allow me to do justice to before it’s tour so I am hopefully making up for that now
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
The Chosen One is Dead.
Disabled since childhood, his little sister never expected the weight of a crown. Now, she might lose it before ever sitting on the throne. Beset by rebels, scheming politicians, and cutthroat bankers, Elenor must choose between accepting her father’s despotic rule or risking everything for her late brother’s lofty ideals.
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, unaware of the danger they carry with them.
Where Shadows Lie is a non-stop epic fantasy ride, featuring an lgbtq+ and disabled protagonist and filled with court intrigue, sizzling romance, and adorable baby dragons. Dive in and get swept away!
Where Shadows Lie was a book that I had been aware of for a while and was eager to read, because it is the first time I’d seen a fantasy cover featuring a wheelchair user, and as someone with frequent mobility issues although not that severe it called to me and I am so glad that I did get to pick it up. The representation is fantastic not only because it is front and centre, but because it is so organically a part of this world and story – both the disability and LGBTQIA+ rep are never the defining element of the characters, but rather just one of many threads making up who they are. Even if I hadn’t liked anything else (which I did…a lot), that would have put this book high on my recommendations, and all I can say is more please!
The prologue for Where Shadows Lie left me with somewhat mixed feelings I have to admit. On the one hand that first line is stellar, striking both visually and because of it sets in motion. The rest of the prologue also starts of this book with one hell of a bang, and immediately establishes that this is a world with a lot going on in terms of intrigue and action. On the other hand, I found that I didn’t immediately connect with the characters, so it was a little harder to be invested in the events that unfolded – this is certainly something that changes quickly as we move into the main part of the book, and honestly, I think that reaction to the prologue was more a personal thing than anything else, because as I said the prologue does everything it has to do.
As much as I love the worldbuilding in this book, it is the characters that I have to talk about first – and aside from the prologue, I was incredibly invested in the characters that Pescatore has filled her world with. The story is multi-POV which tends to be my favourite, and here we have five very distinct POVs, each of whom offer a view of the world and unfolding plot from different sides of the event. Which was essential given the epic scope of this world and plot, and helped to create a beautifully fleshed out view of events and also to make them incredibly personal, because each of these POV characters is fully realised. The care taken with each character is evident not just in their voices, but in the little details that are woven into their POVs from likes and dislikes, to their interactions, to their ways of making decisions.
That is why this book shines so brightly, because each and everyone of these characters feels so real. There is no pure black and white, or paragons of good decision making and that is what makes Where Shadows Lie so much fun, because there are mistakes and bad decisions. The characters are flawed in the most human way, regardless of who they are and what power they have at their fingertips, and those colour their choices, as do their emotions and relations to other, and Pescatore gives them to space to make those errors, to fall hard and get back up. And having that human tapestry against the epic story, with magic and intrigue and everything else going on is why this book works so well, and why as a reader I felt so deeply invested in the events that were happening.
It also makes it really hard to pick a favourite character, especially as the side characters are just as complex and well-written. I will say that for the most part I really liked Elenor, although there were moments when I did want to shake her (although I am starting to realise that is true of most of the characters I really like, so maybe that is a good sign!). Fay was another favourite, while I found Daemon to be the most intriguing and I certainly hope to find out more about him.
That isn’t to say that the worldbuilding isn’t fantastic because it is.
As mentioned previously, this is a world on an epic scale in both breadth and depth, and as with her characters Pescatore has woven a lot of details into the worldbuilding to breathe life into this world. There is real sense of history, and of a world having grown into what it is today, as well as a world that continues to grow and be a varied and multi-layered as the characters and the plot itself. The scale of the world is reflected in the map at the front (and as always there is a bonus point for there being a map!), and even with all the detail about the world that we have already in this book, it still feels like there is more to come which is a feeling I love to finish a book with – especially a first book that has the weight of laying the groundwork.
The two main aspects of the worldbuilding that really stuck with me were the magic system, which as with everything in this book was multi-layered and complex. The use of magic was never as simple as just having someone use magic. There are different kinds of magic, different reasons to use it, but also different situations surrounding it’s use – with some locations such as Lirin where they have tried to control the use of magic, which adds a layer of societal tension to the world, which in turn spills across into other spheres such as politics, economics and religion.
Which leads me nicely onto the other aspect – the religion. The main religion revolves around five gods, and these are not abstract or distant gods (despite what some believe), but beings that are actively involved in the events of the world, manipulating it to their own ends through the use of followers and pawns. I am always a fan of the gods being directly involved in the world, and Pescatore has taken that and done it magnificently, and it is fascinating to see how that kind of pressure impacts on a world that is already divided and facing multiple stresses, as well as on the characters themselves. It is these two elements too that I am most eager to see develop further in future books, because as with the worldbuilding in general, while we have a lot of detail, it feels like there is more to come which is fantastic.
Where Shadows Lie is a fantastic start to this series, and an incredibly human story despite the scale of the intrigue and events happening around the characters. There is a lot happening, and yet Pescatore balances it all with the quiet human moments that invest you in what is happening, and if you want character-driven epic fantasy with outstanding rep then this is one that you should be picking up!
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.