There is an old story that this reviewer is much too lazy to do any research that would verify or debunk. The story says that a man who went by Dr. Suess wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a dare based on only using a hundred distinct words. I bring this up only because I wonder if there was a dare behind ‘All the Paths of Shadow.’
“Mr. Tuttle,” I imagine a smug friend of the author saying (though he probably wouldn’t use the impersonal Mr., but rather a more friendly Frank). “I dare, no, I double-dog dare you to write a book within which the protagonist spends at least seventy five percent of the page count doing math in her lab. You must also find a way to incorporate a talking houseplant.”
“Easily done,” the author may have replied. “I accept your laughable simple challenge.”
“Not so fast!” Our imaginary smug friend decides to up the ante on the game. “I also want to see the most ludicrous use of a magic user’s power ordered by a king, without making the king himself look like an idiot.”
“Ideas are already forming in my head, are there any more caveats to be added?” The imaginary conversation continues, and for the first time the spell checker comes out because who knew that was how to spell caveat?
“Only one more, at least one character must be an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, who no one knows the trustworthiness of. And that character must be a damn good cook.”
And thus is how I imagine the geneses of All the Path of Shadow came about. Mr. Author, will you verify this story for me? And while you’re at it, feel free to fact check that Dr. Seuss one as well.
The land of Tirlin is about to hold an accord in which each of the kingdoms attends. The king orders the books protagonist, young mage Meralda Ovis to find a way to move the shadow from the lands ancient, mysterious tower so he can give a speech at its base. Seemingly the request of a mad king, in reality the speech may be the final point of a new era as the mysterious Hang are coming across the sea to join the process. As could be expected, tampering with an ancient mysterious tower causes its own problems. Meralda soon finds herself responsible for saving the kingdom from an ancient curse, watching the land’s back with other dangerous mages around, and when she finds time for it, getting the darn shadow to move.
Pacing in the book is surprisingly a strong point as I wasn’t kidding about the kind of time spend doing math in a lab. The magic Meralda uses is heavily based on math, but still mystical enough to be considered magic and not science. Thankfully the author keeps the math in Meralda’s head; we don’t see pages of figures, only the results. The time spent in the lab is usually heavy on entertaining dialog; either in the form of brainstorming sessions or banter with the talking house plant. Light humor also helps the flow in spots that could have become tedious. While not action heavy there are a couple entertaining spots where danger lurks around the corner (or right in front of everything).
Meralda is a wonderful character to follow. The youngest mage to hold the top title, and first woman, she was put through advanced training when she turned Mug into a sentient plant with no training at all. While often overwhelmed she does everything possible to keep a straight head; this is not a character that breaks down and whines until someone fixes her problems. It was obvious that despite the gender politics Meralda had earned the respect of many in the land, especially the other magic users. She works through the problems the way people really do; some help from friends, occasional lucky breaks, and a whole lot of hard work.
The rest of the cast was enjoyable, though almost everyone fades into the background; this is assuredly Meralda’s story. Mug the talking plant was entertaining, though like most familiars got a bit Disney cartoon at times. The guards assigned to Meralda were sweet and endearing, obviously smitten with their keep but never annoying. Meralda’s mentors were great. Villains went both ways. One was too obviously evil for my liking; luckily his screen time was low. But I did like that his co-conspirators were a few bad seeds from several countries, rather than all cut from the same cloth.
Yes I enjoyed this book. Meralda is a great character, and I am glad a few loose ends were left so I can hope for a sequel. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for something light and fun with a likable main character.