Shadowless by Randall McNally

What if the gods themselves wanted you dead? A young boy lies on a beach on a warm summer’s day. While trying to block the sun from his eyes Arpherius makes a shocking discovery; he has no shadow. Confused and bewildered he asks his uncle why he is shadowless. What he learns is a terrifying secret that will change his life forever. Set in the Northern Realms, Shadowless is a fantasy novel about individuals born without a shadow. Spawned by the malevolent deities of this world these children of the gods are persecuted at every turn. Hunted by the high priests who carry out the wishes of their gods, hunted by the Shadow Watchers; armed soldiers who are assigned to each temple, and hunted by the gods themselves. Part-mortal and part-god, the Shadowless live for centuries and face a battle for survival, constantly on the run or hiding in far-flung corners of the Northern Realms. Soon their lives and fates become intertwined, expedited by the mysterious monk Amrodan. Driven by a series of visions Amrodan travels through the Northern Realms, seeking out the Shadowless and trying to enlist their help to take a stand and fight back against the gods. (taken from Amazon)

Grim and fascinating, Shadowless is a masterpiece told in shades of gray. It is a fantasy of the epic variety, one with incredible world building.

Every now and then, in the Northern Realms, a child will be born without a shadow. These children are half-human/half-gods, a concept that is very reminiscent of Greek mythology. They each have a bit of their godly father’s power. Where the book goes from here, though, is completely unique. See, a god’s offspring can be used as a vessel to gather more power, which the gods harvest in the most brutal of ways. These Shadowless are hunted. Their killers are soldiers, priests, even the gods themselves. How do you survive when even the gods want you dead?

Shadowless unfolds in a very unusual way: each chapter follows a different character and is almost a short story. Eventually these individual threads form a tapestry, rich in detail and creativity. The Shadowless are gathered together by a mysterious figure, with a common goal: ensure their safety by any means necessary.

Each character is fully formed and developed, adding their own one-of-a-kind perspective. In fact, every character’s story could easily be made into a separate novel, complete and incredibly interesting. Rarely is there that much detail in a book with multiple points of view. It was impressive, to say the least.

Another point in the book’s favor is that the reader doesn’t have to wait long to understand what being Shadowless means: an explanation is given in the very first part. It helped to know a little bit more early on, as there were so many characters that trying to figure things out without much detail would have detracted from the story.

I loved each character (oh-and did I mention that here there be dragons?). However, where author Randall McNally truly shines is in his ability to paint vivid pictures of a grim world, one filled with darkness, but not quite hopeless. That tiny shred of hope–call it a refusal to lay down and give up–lends extra layers to a book that is already extremely nuanced.

This is a longer book, but I flew through it, sucked into both the story and the world. Shadowless is a perfect book for fans of large, sweeping fantasies. Any book that contains complex histories, secrets to be discovered, and meddling gods is one that I’ll happily disappear into.

My review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.

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