01/11/2005. Contributed by Sana Master
pub: Simon and Schuster. 448 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-7432-5682-4.
check out website: www.simonsays.co.uk
'ShadowMasque' is the final part in 'The Shadowkings Trilogy' by Michael Cobley. The events take place three hundred years after the previous segment, 'ShadowGod'. In an interesting twist, the reader soon discovers that the author has picked up certain familiar characters and given them the gift of longevity and the particular wisdom that can accompany it. Byrnak, the arch enemy in the previous part, has become a famous writer and leader of a rebel movement known as the Watchers. He appears to have no understanding as to why his lifespan has been extended, however it is clear that he is trying to work off the bad karma of his previous existence and atone for his deeds.
When I first read the previous part 'ShadowGod', I was not overly impressed by either the writing style or the plotting. It was very confusing and I found I had to flip back often to remind myself of one of the multitude of characters that Cobley had introduced in rapid succession. In addition, I commented in my review, on the cataclysmic conclusion which, I believed, completed the novel so thoroughly that it did not seem possible that the author could actually continue it in any way. However, with this instalment, Cobley proved me wrong. By fast forwarding to a distant future, he managed to circumvent the problems of continuity that I had predicted and managed to produce a far more interesting and gripping novel than the one previous.
So, three hundred years on, in 'ShadowMasque', we learn that during that final battle between the Lord of Twilight, the boy emperor Tauric and the Earthmother, a stronger court card was introduced into the game. The higher powers that occupied the void decided to step in and present the three with a choice. They were informed that if they continued fighting they risked tearing apart the fabric of the multi-dimensional universe. In effect, all existence was in danger of being completely wiped out. They were told that to avoid that catastrophe, they had to agree to allow the other to exist in domination in a separate world. Consequently, two possible futures winked into existence. One, where the Lord of Twilight was defeated and his remnants shattered. This is the future that Byrnak-Calabos plays his part in. The second, where the Lord of Twilight was victorious and spread his darkness over a world populated by humans who can never completely die. 'ShadowMasque' is set in the former world and the action focuses on the Lord of Twilight's bid to gain dominion of this one world denied his mastery so many centuries ago.
Before reading this novel, I was not convinced that it would impress me any more than 'ShadowGod'. However, almost immediately, I was caught and I deduced that the main reason was because the writing style was much more accessible. Events are explained in a clearer fashion and characters are introduced slowly and thoroughly. This novel can be read as a standalone because of the way the events are so far removed from the original two parts. Cobley draws the reader into the different sides of the conflict by separating the key characters and presenting alternate episodes occurring simultaneously but at different locations. The action is fast-paced and elegantly described. It progresses through the convoluted situations, typical of the fantasy genre and concludes with a final flourish in a happy ending.
All in all, I enjoyed Cobley's latest offering. He drew the characters with verve and style, encouraging the reader to participate in the story he was unfolding. The plot was complex but clearly spun out, providing tantalising teasers at the end of each episode, which made me want to skip ahead to the next time that particular thread was picked up and woven. In my opinion, a clear winner for Michael Cobley.
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