Book Review: In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Glass Immortals
Publisher: Tor (June 21, 2022)
Length: 576 pages
In the first epic fantasy by Brian McClellan since his Powder Mage series of novels concluded, In the Shadow of Lightning begins a new adventure in the world of the Glass Immortals, a universe featuring magic powered by colorful forged godglass. We begin with a miscommunication—one that leads to massacre and the ruination of a military rising star’s career. Nine years later, Demir Grappo is a disgraced outcast, but when the news of his mother’s death reaches him, he returns to the capital to uncover the truth behind her killing.
But untangling this mystery won’t be easy. Demir has been gone too long, and is unfamiliar with the city’s politics. He hires a dear friend, Kizzie, to help him in his investigation. In the process of hunting his mother’s murderer, he also tracks down a siliceer, someone who can forge godglass. Not only is Thessa one hell of a glass smith, she is also a great scientific mind with many projects going, and one of the most disturbing developments she is studying is the depletion of raw materials used to create godglass. As Thessa scrambles to build a device capable of recharging used glass, Demir and Kizzie find more allies to aid them in their mission to unravel a plot that runs deeper than all of them imagined.
In the Shadow of Lightning is an incredibly unique and imaginative novel—but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the author. I was definitely impressed with the world-building and this new magical system based around godglass. If you’re familiar with McClellan’s Powder Mage series, or even his mentor Brandon Sanderson’s work, you’d probably have some idea what it might be like, but at the same time, it’ll also be completely different than anything you’ve ever read. Depending on the type of Godglass, magic users called glassdancers can manifest various abilities by tapping into their power. If you’re thinking this sounds a little like Mistborn’s Allomancy, that thought had occurred to me as well.
Then there are the characters. Out of this relatively large cast, Demir is the closest we have to a protagonist. From the beginning, he made for a powerfully sympathetic figure. A general who walked away from a life of privilege to become a vagabond, he is forced to return to his roots and reclaim his seat at the head of his family following his mother’s death. He is the reluctant hero, and wears that mantle well. The supporting cast was also very compelling, including a couple of strong female leads who play important, memorable roles in the story. A bit of comic relief is also supplied by Baby Montego, a famous fighter who is just so out there that you can’t help but find his bravado and antics endearing. In fact, I found the many moments of levity quite surprising, given how many of the characters came from tragic and/or dark backgrounds.
Still, a lot of the backstories and character flaws come across as a bit cliched. Granted, I think it would help ease a new reader into the plot and settle in more comfortably, given how much there is to take in. The plot slowed considerably after the first few chapters, as the author shifted gears towards more explanation and world-building, resulting in a mystery that was more slow-burn and going nowhere fast. Luckily, we started easing off the brakes again once we hit the second half, and with the introduction of some of the more, er, monstrous elements of the story, I found the last sections of the book really hard to put down.
All in all, I enjoyed In the Shadow of Lightning. In some ways it was pure Brian McClellan, but it also held a lot of surprises, and alas, some disappointments as well. That said, I don’t feel discouraged, as this is just the first book of a new series. I remember having similar thoughts after finishing Promise of Blood when it first came out, feeling excited despite having some doubts, but knowing deep down it was the start of something special. I’m confident we’re building up to something great here as well, and I look forward to diving deeper into the rest of the series.