This is truly epic fantasy!
I had no expectations when I received a copy of In The Court of Dreams and Shadows to review. Find the book HERE.
I knew nothing of Joseph Samaniego’s previous work, and since this is the third book in the Carolyngian Age series, I wondered if I would be able to understand what was going on. As it turns out, the book works well as a standalone story and I had nothing to worry about!
This is truly epic fantasy by any definition, and it’s easy to draw comparisons with other fully-realised fantasy novels by JRR Tolkien, Tad Williams, and George R. R. Martin. Like those authors, Samaniego is masterful at world building and he layers his story with details and history that add incredible richness and depth. In addition to this, he is also a talented cartographer and illustrator, and he peppers his novel with maps and heraldry to complement the tale. The effect he achieves is total immersion, where the imagery is memorable and you feel as if you are visiting a real place, inhabited by genuine people.
I loved it. The book starts out slow as we dip in and out of various characters’ lives and learn more about the world they inhabit, but the plot quickly gains steam with a few critical incidents, and soon we are hurtling along from one adventure to another with knights, mages, kings, and sundry other creatures. There are battles aplenty, and lots of subterfuge and double crosses to heighten the tension. Amid it all, Samaniego weaves history and facts into the narrative with casual confidence, painting mental scenes that remain long after you put the book down. It’s also really funny and touching in places.
The Court of Dreams and Shadows utilises familiar fantasy tropes such as elves, orcs, and all kinds of other creatures, but its references to other stories never passes into the mawkish or mundane. It’s not exactly an homage, either—rather, Samaniego takes up where other authors have left off and runs with it, making those familiar ideas his own. This makes Court of Dreams and Shadows very easy to enjoy, like a coat that fits the first time you put it on.
By the time the book was winding up, I didn’t want it to end. I won’t give away the plot, but I’ll just say it was a satisfying conclusion that tied up a lot of disparate threads, and provided some answers while posing new questions and leaving open the possibility for new stories. And I hope there are more books in this series!
Until then, I must now go back and read the first two books in the Carolygnian Age tales. I can’t wait 🙂