Shadebringer begins with an inscrutable world map and intriguing chapter quotes.
The title led me to believe it would be a traditional fantasy work in the vein of Brandon Sanderson. That is not the case. Brent Weeks and other authors have a tendency to use titles like this to ease the reader into another world. On the contrary, the first part of the book reads more like a drama, acquainting the reader with the real world and the characters: familiar and realistic people, who spout off opinions and fill in their own backstories with well-orchestrated internal monolog and dialogue. The cinematic scope is impressive, though the action is interspersed with dramatic back-and-forth utilizing scenes reminiscent of films like Full Metal Jacket. Line-by-line humor helps guide us through the fast-paced description from the perspective of our jaded narrator.
The narrative jaunts through Vietnam, exploring exotic locales, filling the backdrop with luscious scenery and cheeky, foul-mouthed characters. Something happens on every page. Often the pacing ramps up to thriller levels. It describes a modern world rife with violence, tension, and political strife.
Our protagonist maintains the mentality of a typical jarhead, giving us an internal commentary replete with expletives, bolstered by his comrades, whose repartee is colorful and vivid, to say the least. “By the time I was twenty, I was built like a New England lighthouse,” is a prime example. Plenty of good lines that would translate well to a movie script are waiting for you in the humid atmosphere of this novel. The realistic portrayal of wartime aggravations, struggles of troops deep into their roles, and the strong awareness of period detail contribute much verisimilitude. Thankfully, the author sprinkles in figurative language and plentiful variety of sentence structure to keep the reader engaged, along with consistent imagery.
You get a strong sense of the hopelessness of the situation at times, and a good camaraderie between characters. There are a lot of names to keep track of and some jarring jump cuts, but the rhythm and pulse of the story is nothing if not convincing. It strikes me as a very accurate style of speech and attitude, judging from what I’ve gleaned from Hollywood, and real people – an approach which does not pull punches, and neither does it coddle us. This is gritty stuff, requiring an attention to nuance and offering a huge amount of intimate detail amid rich character development.
Recommended for lovers of military fiction, but be prepared for a discernible slide into a world that will challenge the imagination. If you like books taking place in the jungle or anything with non-stop action, you will also be right at home.
About 20% in, the tone diversifies, the world opens up, and we are offered a more balanced reading experience. The author’s descriptions begin to shine, but he does not sacrifice his signature quick-witted badinage. I actually welcomed the slower moments, the quiet instances of observation and speculation evolving from the dynamic twist in the setting.
In the end, it is a surprising page-turning with a unique plot.