Rating: 4.5 stars
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Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm, newly graduated, has traveled to the capital Cieolata to fulfill a promise he made. He faces racism and malice, but he will not be deterred. And since Narsi’s generally a genial sort, he knows not to let it affect him too much. When he finally gets to the Duke of Ruama’s home, he finds the one man he was looking for already there. Atreau doesn’t seem to remember him, but the enigmatic writer is just as charming as before.
Atreau has depths not many people know. Though he’s been ridiculed for his most recent book, he’s so much more than a writer. He knows secrets not many do, and he’s bound and determined to do whatever he can to keep those he holds dear from suffering a terrible fate. Narsi intrigues him upon meeting, and Atreau’s drawn to the master physician. But who he is, and what he is, makes it far too dangerous to get involved. He wants to shelter Narsi, but that doesn’t stop him from bringing Narsi in when his help is needed.
Fedeles, the Duke of Ruama, suffered a terrible curse and, as a result, hates physicians of any sort. But his role in protecting his family and the people of Cieolata, though clandestine, means he eventually interacts with Narsi. And if Narsi has the knowledge and ability to help, Fedeles will use him. Because the high bishop is behind a plot to destroy the monarchy and start a war, and Fedeles knows that cannot happen.
Ariz is a master at fencing and dancing, and he has been in the Duke’s home for a while. But he has a secret that is far deeper than any of the others, and it takes everything in him to fight against it. But though he has no choice, Ariz fights even when the pain is debilitating. Narsi offer him hope of freedom, but that won’t erase all the things he’s done.
When it all comes to a head, these men, along with their allies, will stop at nothing to see justice win. But this is only the beginning.
Master of Restless Shadows is an epic high fantasy. Lush description and detail lay out complex world building. There are dozens of characters, multiple plot twists, and Hale weaves a tale that flows seamlessly from one thing to the next. Page after page, new information is revealed, layers are built, and when this lengthy story ends, it’s on a cliff hanger. Because there is so much more to come.
I have to say that the blurb is a little misleading in its simplicity. This book is very long, and all of the ground work is laid. But there is so much going on here, so many different characters and plot points, that it got a little bogged down. If you’re used to reading high fantasy, then this won’t come as a surprise and it’ll be easier to navigate, but if it’s new to you, then be aware. This takes time to read, and has the potential to become confusing.
I wasn’t quite expecting this level of high fantasy when I picked up the book, again due to the blurb. But Hale takes the style and runs with it, crafting a book that would be worthy of sitting on a shelf with Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin. Admittedly, it took some time for me to get into the story, but that was mostly due to my mindset at the time, and I was eventually drawn into the fantastical world of magic, religious zealots, and interesting and well-crafted characters.
I’m not going to dissect the plot as there is far too much, and too much information would end up being a spoiler. I will say it’s done with a deft hand, and while nothing is too much of a surprise, it’s all handled well. I was drawn in particularly by the characters. Each one is fleshed out and whole, especially the main four through whom the story is told. We get to know them well and see their character quirks, flaws, and heart shine through. The secondary characters are numerous, and each one plays a specific role. These too are well-crafted and individual, and those who have dialogue are especially recognizable.
Let me take a moment here to say there is blatant racism, homophobia, suicidal ideation, and trauma spoke of on page. None of these things are sensationalized, and each is handled with care. But if any of these things are a particularly hard trigger for you, it might be better to steer clear.
Murder. Mystery. Intrigue. A cast of characters who feel real. Plot twists and turns. Religion and magic. This book has it all. Hale has crafted an epic tale, but as I said, this is only the beginning. The cliff we’re left hanging off is huge, but really, there was no other place for this first volume to end. If you’re craving high fantasy, this book is for you.