Glen Cook – A Shadow Of All Night Falling

I have previously reviewed the two prequels to the Dread Empire Trilogy, The Fire In His Hands and With Mercy Toward None. As the word prequel suggests the Dread Empire Trilogy was written before the prequels. I could have started with the main sequence, but I opted to follow the chronological order of the story to find out if it would be advisable to read the prequels first.

I have now completed the first book of the trilogy, A Shadow Of All Night Falling (1979), and I can already say that reading the prequels would be better. In A Shadow Of All Night Falling Glen Cook refers to earlier events described in the prequels. Not knowing about them beforehand would not be problematic as they don’t play an important role, but it does prevent the reader from falling into the middle of a story. A certain times during the reading I almost thought the book had been partially rewritten to fit the prequel. Only if Cook had already worked out the main elements of the background events he could have done this so well. I do not consider it improbable as Cook often proves himself a master of detailed and complicated plots in which outside events influence the story.

A Shadow Of All Night Falling is not a continuation of the prequels. Those focused on a few main characters of which several only play a minor role in this book. While in the prequels we only got some small hints of the greater powers influencing the world, they now are taking a prominent place and role in the story. Whereas the prequels mainly contained regular people, the story changes to unusual people with a greater background. Cook’s world-building is complex and it took me a while to get a grip on setting which is in familiar territory which was outside of the events in the prequels.

The story moves fast and is full with action and twists. On occasion however Cook suddenly presents chapters playing in the past. They add some necessary background to what is going on as the characters are not reflecting back to earlier events. Most of the characters themselves are hardly developed, just a few sketches which don’t get much time because of the fast moving story. As is a typical trait of Cook he manages to cram an incredible amount of story in very few pages. This does have a bad influence on some other parts as he leaves little time to explore the different settings or characters. You are in a roller-coaster ride with the aim not to let the reader realize where he has been.

To the contrary of the prequels, sorcery plays a much larger role and, unlike the Black Company books, we actually get to see some more actual performance here. I like this because previously the magic system was very much undefined and vague. That it’d be convenient to use it like that is true, but most fantasy authors try to give it some substance.

It is quite clear that this is an earlier book. The story lacks some balance and the actions of the characters sometimes seems odd. The story somewhat suffers from deus ex machina occurrences. This certainly reaches its climax in the final which contains so many twists and surprises that to the reader they will really come out of nowhere. They have not been outside the well of possibilities, but it is not so nice that the possibility only turns up at the end.

I can only say that A Shadow Of All Night Falling is a tough book for a reader to get into. Even with having read the prequels first I had to keep full attention of what was going on. I consider myself a more skilled reader than average. I like complex plots with intricate details. I would guess the average reader would have problems following the story. He would still be entertained but unsure of what was going on. Reading the prequels first would be a necessity. Compared to the prequels, which also contain plenty of twists, A Shadow Of All Night Falling will feel complicated. Quite ambitious but also more superficial as only few characters get time to shine.

The book is entertaining, especially if one is looking for non-mainstream fantasy, so it is surely recommendable. The overall quality of the novel is however lower than the prequel, and thus quite below the Black Company books.

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