Take Rand al'Thor from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (or any other young hero archetype), drop in a few hints of Tolkien, and sprinkle with the stock characters you find in any number of fantasy novels. Shake lightly. What you would end up with is THE TOWER OF SHADOWS.
Lest the above paragraph seems too harsh, it should be kept in mind that author Drew Bowling is a college student and began his work on this novel while still in high school. That is a great achievement. And though THE TOWER OF SHADOWS may be just an amalgam of other fantasy works, well, most of them are. They tend to be built on similar molds.
What matters is what you do with your creations and how you develop your voice. Bowling, in the end, stands on his own merits.
Corin Starcross is the young hero, saved as a child by Dale, a wizard, and Wren Tident, a mercenary. Corin, however, has a brother, Cade, who was not rescued by the two would-be heroes and he sets out on the path for vengeance, determined to take out those who have murdered his parents. With sorcery as his guide, Cade seeks to call out the greatest of all demons, Apollyon. But to do so he must spill the blood of his own brother.
Cade sends assassins to bring Corin to him while Dale maneuvers his own pawns into place to protect the young boy. As is the way of things, nothing ever goes as planned, and eventually Corin and Cade meet face to face to settle the matter. Along the way, friends will struggle, some will fall, and those in that mysterious netherworld between childhood and adulthood must step up and come of age.
While the elements of the story itself are average, Bowling does possess a solid voice and thus is able to make the tale much more interesting. Fantasy aside, Bowling does very well with the more horrific imaginings, and it's nice to see that he does not stick to the convention that heroes are unbeatable. He does a fantastic job with the creation of and resolutions for the character of Wren.
As a first novel, THE TOWER OF SHADOWS succeeds for a couple of reasons. It is a quick-paced adventure story with a very visual style. The world of Ellynrie has some wonderful elements and leaves much more to be explored with future works. It also provides a glimpse into what Bowling may be able to do in the years to come as he further defines his voice. But perhaps the greatest thing about the book is the author's youth.
It's a difficult thing to keep one's sense of the magical and the mythical fresh and unjaded as time passes. It's an odd paradox that many readers expect their fantasy to be realistic and the fantastic must be explained, thus losing its magic. Bowling's vision in THE TOWER OF SHADOWS is not yet clouded, and his expression of wonder and fantasy are untainted and pure. It takes us back to a time when stories were fun and when magic was just magic. And we accepted it as such because we, too, were young.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 23, 2011