a review by Nalini Haynes
A Shadow on the Glass begins with Llian, a chronicler, or storyteller with great status, whose goal in life is to secure a position at his college after graduating with his master’s degree, however he rocks the boat by raising politically volatile questions and then offends a powerful Master at the college, resulting in his expulsion. Sent on an errand to find Karan and guide her, Llian leaves the life he has known since he was 12, and, inadequately prepared, sets out. Karan is of mixed race with telepathic and magical giftings as a result. Karan is entangled in Maigraith’s quest to steal the Mirror, a magical artefact held by Yggur, a powerful magician.
Much of A Shadow on the Glass is travel scenes, interspersed with events or challenges placed upon the central characters. The characters themselves tend to be somewhat two-dimensional with occasional melodramatic overtones, but this is the first book in the series and this is Irvine’s first published novel. One of my pet peeves is when someone is injured and does not behave realistically with this injury. Karan breaks her wrist. She has the opportunity to have it magically healed but turns this down, so every event after that (climbing down a cliff face, for example) really annoyed me. This is a common flaw in movies and literature. It also appeared that Irvine was in the process of unlearning years of academic writing as his prose tended to vary in style, especially early in the novel.
Irvine’s greatest strength in this novel is his world-building. Some scenes made me yearn for this novel to be rendered into a full colour graphic novel with a realistic style. This would have had the added benefit of compressing some of the chase and travel scenes to a few panels or a page. Some of the wilderness and city scenes would make glorious splash screens too.
Heavily influenced by Jules Verne and Lord of the Rings (the books), A Shadow on the Glass is recommended for fans of these works. Reviews on the internet give a general consensus is that A Shadow on the Glass rates 3.5 stars and Irvine’s later books are even better.
Originally published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011. This post has been pre-dated to reflect the original publication date.