Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver
Many moons ago, either in Drama or English, I was taught ‘don’t tell me, show me.’ in relation to characters. Someone should have told Neil Oliver that. These characters are some of the most flat, one dimensional, unconvincing characters I’ve ever come across. And I’ve read a LOT. I know it’s hard to make people seem ‘real’ when writing about different times/cultures/sexes, and this is the author’s first novel. I was drawn by the title; I read the blurb and thought ‘Ooh, female warrior. I like Buffy so….’ Yeah, no. This book normally wouldn’t appeal to me. I’m not good at historical books, I don’t know why. Maybe because I didn’t enjoy history at school? They never seem to feel real to me. I find it far easier to imagine space stuff, vampire stuff, alternate reality stuff. However, I bought it, and persevered.
The story goes like this: There’s Badr, who saves his friend Patrick’s life. Patrick makes him promise that of anything happens to him, Badr will look after Pat’s wife and son. Patrick dies, obviously, so Badr goes to find the Mrs and kid, who live in Scotland. He arrives in the nick of time and saves their lives from the baaaad land owner. Fabulous. The Mrs gets killed a bit later, so Badr takes the son, John, under his wing and trains him to be a badass killer, just like him and Patrick, whilst also telling him about his father and that his mother isn’t his mother, just Patrick’s wife. Meanwhile, in Constantinople, a woman has died and her daughter is really upset. She decides to kill herself and throws herself off a balcony in a church, as you would. A Prince who just happens to be in the church and catches her (yeah) saves her life, but he breaks his back. They fall in love, of course. Back to John, who’s all grown up, and he’s the badass killer it was obvious he was going to grow up to be. He and Badr are mercenaries (a word I often get confused with missionaries, which is very different) and Badr gets killed. Very sad, much tears, so cry. But not before telling John that he, Badr, has a daughter and wants John to find her and look after her the way he has for John. I assume he does NOT want him to train her to be a killer, but you never know. John sets off, and on the way meets a woman who turns out to be his real mother. She’s also Joan of Arc who apparently didn’t get burned at the stake; someone else did in her place. She went off, had a fling with Patrick, and then learnt to be a ‘fearsome female warrior’. And a nun. Yup. They team up, and pootle off to Constantinople to ‘rescue’ Badr’s daughter. Who, gasp, is the girl that lobbed herself off the balcony. John falls in love at first sight, she fancies him but is in love with the prince that saved her so they have a snog but then she decides that she must be with the prince. There’s a big fight, the baddies mostly die, or run off with their tales between their legs. Joan of Arc, John, and balcony girl rescue the broken prince from where the baddies have tied him up, and everyone lives happily ever after. Still with me?
There is NO timeline. Literally none. I have no idea how old John is when Badr first turns up. I have no idea how long the story takes place over. Then there’s this business the whole way through about how John is the only person ever who can feel the rotation of the earth. He’s aware of movements all the way across the planet even though in those days they didn’t know the earth was round not flat. What? How? What?
The only thing I liked was a story told by balcony girl, told to her by her granny. Some souls have twins, people that connect with them on a deeper level. They can be a parent and child, lovers, friends, any relationship you can think of. Most people never meet their soul twin, which seems a bit unfair. The book infers that John and balcony girl are going to be soul twins, and then *drum roll* you find out its someone else. Big twist, lovely. The story appeals to me cos I’m secretly a mushy git.
As you might have realised, I was not a fan of this book. It was confusing, it was flat, it was bloody hard to follow, and there was not one single funny moment in the whole damn thing. If I weren’t the stubborn madam I am, I’d have given up on it. I wish I had.