Book Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Rating: 🪄

The Shadow of What Was Lost is the first book in The Licanius Trilogy, a fantasy series by James Islington.

I really enjoyed this book. As usual, spoilers ahead.

The setting in this book feels huge. It’s like a Marvel Movie in High fantasy format, seriously, it’s a super hero book more than a fantasy book. In Brandon Sanderson’s worlds, he introduces a structured magical mechanic that influences physics or physical abilities, like the Allomantic metals in Mistborn or the Stormlight in The Stormlight Archive.

In The Licanius Trilogy, both the magical mechanics and their effects are ridiculous. Life force (essence) and a more mysterious force (kan) are used, sometimes together, to manipulate time, healing, physics, mind reading, mind control, shape-shifting, and knowledge acquisition. The Avengers have nothing on people who can use these forces – “The Gifted” and “Augurs”.

In Islington’s world, you can even infuse these forces into physical devices to create weapons, building materials, knowledge indexes for libraries…the list goes on.

As soon as you introduce time travel, you have some immediate potential plot holes to fill. Islington deals with this by clarifying that although some may travel through time, none can change it (although this feels like a potential keystone of the series in terms of its truthfulness, i.e. I feel like Davian, a main character, may be able to change history by the end of the series…). There are time-travel moments that feel Primer-esque in terms of subtlety, and others that feel more like Looper – very not subtle.

Islington is a talented story teller. There were torture scenes I had to skip sentences in because of the brutality, and horror scenes that had me genuinely frightened, physically curling up in my bed at night.

The characters have real relationships. I care about the individual and collective futures of Davian, Wirr, and Ash, and each have strengths and weaknesses and interact in plausible ways. Davian and Wirr’s male friendship is believable, and there’s a great moment where you are forced to doubt Davian’s commitment to his friend as his powers grow, but he does exactly as he says he will, demonstrating an integrity and commitment you had just barely started to worry about.

At times, reading felt a bit flat, almost like candy – like watching the Lord of the Rings movies. Epic battles with heroic last minute saves. But there are enough novel elements, stakes that feel real, and punctured plot-armor that the book is well worth a read. I’m already on to the next in the series and looking forward to seeing how it all develops.