Today it’s my pleasure to be joining the Escapists Books blog tour for A Shade of Madness by Thiago Abdalla, the second book in the Ashes of Avarin series and sequel to the SPFBO finalist A Touch of Light. You can find my review for book one HERE, and please do check out the rest of the stops on the tour!
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Avarin tumbles into madness through the shattered ruin of a centuries-old peace.
As griffin riders clash against airships above and hordes of madmen below, Lynn finds herself surrounded by enemies. Ones that will test the limits of her faith. To defeat them, she must risk everything… including her sanity.
Adrian has lost the Legion, but new magics on foreign shores might be the answer he needs to rebuild his army. His return to the Domain will bring vengeance, and the hope that he will finally prove himself to his father.
Nasha’s curse has taken on a new, terrifying shape. She dreads it could be just what the dead goddess needs to escape from Her prison within the Silent Earth. Will she be strong enough to resist, or will Nasha’s curse give rise to the monster she fears to become?
Madness is spreading and it cares not for the borders of men.
A Shade of Madness is the second book in the Ashes of Avarin series, picking up straight after the exciting conclusion of A Touch of Light.
A Shade of Madness picks up immediately after A Touch of Light, but if like me it’s been a while since you read the first book then Abdalla has included a thorough ‘the story so far’ section at the beginning, which was fantastic for grounding you back in the three main POVs and everything that had happened in that first book. In addition, there is also that beautiful, beautiful map at the beginning is an instant bonus point – I do love a good map, and I feel I have been lacking in my map appreciation lately – and this book makes it so easy (SUCH A PRETTY MAP).
And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about that wonderful cover. I adore Griffins, and definitely don’t think we get to see enough of them – so to see one taking centre stage on such a stunning cover is brilliant, as well as playing such a dominant role in the world and story (more please!).
Also, I am delighted to see the Dripping Bucket franchise claim another book!
‘The dead are unworthy, but to deny the use of death as a weapon is to make ourselves weak before it. The Sentinels wield death in favor of life, and the Priests of the Blood heal the worthy through the pain that death seeks to inflict on us.’
The worldbuilding was an element that really stood out for me in the first book, and we can see the benefits of that strong foundation here. However, Abdalla has certainly not rested on his laurels for this second book, and it felt that now we had a grounding in this world, he has lifted the hood and let us see all the inner workings happening behind the scenes. From the political intrigues – and actually those were some of my favourite parts of the book, because the wrangling, extortion and backstabbing and ever-shifting alliances were addictive to read, and it kept me on my toes, because you never knew what side the coin was going to land on. And as well as being fun to read, it helped build layers into the world, because so many of these elements involved were happening in the present but built on past actions and relationships and it allowed us to see where the present situation had developed from.
In a similar way, the theme of death and the discussion around it revealed so much of the world. Abdalla explores how different views on it have shaped beliefs both on a personal level, but also through the various pillars of magic and faith. He’s taken an element that is ever present and incredibly human, and given it not only one voice – but many voices, and then shown how that can feed into so many other voices. From, seeing how people are judged in death, to how death itself can be used as a weapon and a threat, and how far some will go to escape it or to inflict it. It’s a fascinating exploration and shows so much of the cultural and personal differences that fill this world.
It also feeds into the magic system, that we have seen building throughout both books – and I have to say I loved Abdalla’s concept of blood magic, and the idea of sacrifice. I always enjoy systems that demand a cost from its users, and Abdalla has played on that beautifully with the question of ‘how much are you willing to give?’ and for what? To protect someone, to save your people, to gain power? Having that check and balance, and that need to sacrifice in return for power is such a great way of putting characters under the microscope, and here we get to see it through multiple characters and motivations, and how it is shaped differently by each.
“…our greatest battles are always fought within ourselves. Your choices will define what emerges from within you.”
As wonderful as the worldbuilding is, Abdalla always brings it back to the characters – we see the world through their eyes and experiences, we see their paths shaped by the events of the world around them. At its heart, this book is a character-driven tale, it’s the story of Lynn, Adrian and Nasha – familiar faces and voices if you read the first book (if you didn’t, go back and read it now) – and them carving a path through this world. None of these characters are passive, and even with the odds stacked against them, we see each of them embracing their own strengths and beliefs and reaching out to take control of their fate and their way forward.
Abdalla does a fantastic job of making each character an individual, a composition of their experiences, their emotions (and others – in the case of Nasha) and their core and how they see themselves. We get to see them at their best and their worst, and because we are so closely drawn into their stories and their voices, we get to feel and connect with their emotions – very human emotions – and it allows us to understand where they are coming from. We’ve all felt anger and doubt, guilt and longing, that need to fit in, to be seen for ourselves – and having that play out on these pages draws us in, and the fact that we get to see that shaped by the events unfolding, allows us to connect and understand even when the characters then make a choice that maybe we wouldn’t. For example, Adrian was painfully understandable in his grief, in the light of betrayals and being caught quite often in between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and you could see how he chose his path – and yet there were so many moments when I disagreed with his choices – but would I have taken a different choice in his shoes?
We definitely got to see Lynn and Nasha coming into their own in this book, far more than we had in A Touch of Light. Of the three main POVs here, I felt that Nasha’s really stole the show for me, perhaps because of her revelations towards the end of the book – the power of her finding her belief, and realising it had always been there in some form was incredibly powerful, and just seeing her struggle with her power, and her goals really hooked me in. Lynn had so much weight on her shoulders, constantly shifting, and in some ways she was the main personification of the title of this book and as much as I loved Nasha’s story, I have a feeling that Lynn’s storyline will be the one that hits most painfully in the long run – and you can’t help but feel for her in the lessons that she has to learn throughout the events in this book.
‘I am the Sentinel who keeps Her faith. I am the blade that cleanses the land. I am the gaze that burns the night away.’
A Shade of Madness also sees the introduction of a new POV character Kadmus, and he brought an additional depth to the worldbuilding, offering a rich insight into the motivations behind some of the events. In some ways his POV felt closer, his own motivations a lot smaller and more personal in scale than some of the others, but at the same time he felt a bit like a pebble that when it falls will trigger an avalanche. It felt like we got a glimpse of that through his interactions with the other characters, particularly Nasha – and the ending really just reinforced that feeling.
However, despite there being so many aspects that I did love and worked so well, there was also one aspect that I didn’t get on with – and having spoken to other people who have read the book – I think this might be something that I personally just don’t gel with and that is the writing style. I’ve spent the entire morning trying to pinpoint what it is that niggled at me, because it was something I was aware of throughout the entire book, and yet at the same time I couldn’t put A Shade of Madness down, and usually when I bounce off of a writing style that tends to be a deal breaker. And the thing is there were lines that hit ‘spot on’ for me, usually around the emotional aspects and the discussion and focus on death (not sure what that says about me as a reader!), and it’s a style that’s very suited to the action-heavy moments, with the quick pace and sharp impact. I think it’s just a little too punchy maybe for the quieter, more character development moments for me – and that is the thing – while it was something that bugged me, it is something entirely subjective.
And it wasn’t a deal breaker here. I consumed A Shade of Madness pretty much in one go (dog interruptions don’t count), because of the plot and the characters, and the magic and that focus on death not just through the lens of the magic and faith, but how it related to the characters on a personal level and people on a larger scale. It also won’t stop me from following the rest of the series (especially since I discovered the other titles on goodreads, and now I want them all) because while I didn’t gel with the writing in the way I would like, I had a lot of fun with this book.
A Shade of Madness was able to soar because A Touch of Light had done so much of the leg work with establishing the world, but at the same time, it did raise the bar for this series. We got to see the world of Avarin continuing to expand both in terms of breadth and depth, and the characters – old and new – really coming into their own, especially in light of what they were facing, while been swept up in all the chaos, intrigue and gripping action that fills these pages. Overall a great addition to this series!
Thiago was born in Brazil but grew up in the fantasy worlds from the stories he kept in his mind. He has inhabited everywhere from Middle-Earth and Azeroth to the planes of Dominaria, Ravnica and Tarkir. No matter the medium, what kept him coming back was always his love for story.
He could never wait for the next world to dive into, so, after being (indirectly) urged on by the (printed) words of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Patrick Rothfuss, N. K. Jemisin and many, many others, decided to create his own.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.