Shadow – K.J. Parker

Shadow by K.J. Parker is proving to be a very difficult book for me to review, partly because I highly enjoyed it but can understand why many readers will pick it up and either hate it or be unable to finish it. It’s not a bad book, but it is a unique book and because of that highly unique quality, it’s proving difficult for me to adequately review.
Shadow opens up with the protagonist waking up surrounded by dead bodies and having no memory of who he is. Parker then takes us on a journey as he goes from one odd situation to another trying to make some sort of life for himself and find out who he is and where he fits in the world.  
On the surface, this may seem to be a rather cliché plot, but Parker does an incredible job at keeping the reader just as clueless as the protagonist through most of the book. Thus, the reader gleans bits and pieces of the world, culture, custom and etcetera at the same rate as the protagonist. Parker does this incredibly artfully and with surprising finesse adding much needed layers to the world and story slowly and subtly.
However, this is why readers will either love or hate Shadow.
Most of this book is internal dialogue, observation and thought sparkled with Parker’s telltale dry wit and subtle sarcasm. Because of the heavy internal dialogue and the slow rate which important facts are revealed throughout the book, many readers might find this book a plodding and tedious read. Due to the fact that the main character doesn’t know who he is through most of the book, individuals may feel rather disconnected with the overall plot. However, for those who are willing to immerse themselves in the view of an amnesiac, the effort will be well rewarded. It takes roughly half the book for the reader (and character) to learn about many of the conflicts facing the world and even then it’s obvious that you are only getting a fraction of the full story, which will probably be revealed in further books of the series.
We, as the readers, are given the same hints as the protagonist about his identity and place in the larger world through fragmented dreams and small clues given by people scattered throughout the book. While this was an essential part of keeping the reader hooked to the story and keeping curiosity inflamed, I did get somewhat tired of the conveniently broken off clues on identity sprinkled throughout the book, which did, at times, get surprisingly contrived.
However, despite this Parker’s writing is, as always, smooth, descriptive and easy to get lost in. Readers who are willing to read a book from the perspective of a man who can’t remember anything will be rewarded with a lush, vibrant world with a shocking amount of depth. Parts of this book are mind warping. What I mean by this is, there were parts of Shadow where I had the same confused feeling I had when I watched Inception. I really enjoy that kind of thing but not everyone does.
This book seems to be focused more on the overall theme of identity than anything else and it’s interesting how Parker uses Shadow to pose important questions or prompt deep thoughts regarding this topic.  While I was admittedly skeptical on how enjoyable a book would be where there is literally almost no history or back-story, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, but it did take effort. Shadow isn’t like Devices and Desires, where I was automatically gripped by the story and lush history of the world. This book is subtle, deep and slow to develop, and many people will find it trying because of that.
For readers who are just being introduced to K.J. Parker, I don’t think Shadow is the proper place to start. This seems to be more of a book tried and true Parker fans would enjoy more than those who have never read Parker’s work before. However, readers who enjoy Parker’s subtlety, sarcasm and depth will most likely find Shadow as a worthy, thought provoking addition to their literary collection.
Parker makes the journey of an amnesiac come to life. Shadow is an incredible account of self-discovery and while many readers may find it a boring read with a plodding plot, those who are willing to dive into the depths and see the world through the eyes of someone with no past will be richly rewarded.
4/5 stars

Pages: 576
Publication: Orbit, 2001

5 Responses

  • ediFanoB

    awesome review!!!
    Without giving away too much you let everyone know what to expect from the book. I'm really impressed.

    I'm a bit envious because in the past days I did not find time for reading …..

  • Memory

    Sounds awesome to me! I love books where the reader is just as confused as the protagonist.

  • Jared

    Such a brilliant series…. even as you learn more about the protagonist, you learn, er… less. I can't even possibly phrase it correctly. Also, the same sort of super-wonderful attention to detail that made the Engineer trilogy so good. *everything matters*

    If you haven't already, check out the KJ Parker interview (by Tom Holt) over at Subterranean Press –

  • Mark Timmony

    Another author I have yet to read! /writes in note pad…

  • Sarah

    Jared, I just read that interview and, if possible, I like KJ Parker even more now and have determined that Parker HAS to be a female. (I could be wrong but I think it would be great to have KJP as kickass fantasy writer who is also female).

    Mark, yes you must read KJP! Amazing. I'd start with the Engineer trilogy first, that series seems to be a better series to use to get acquainted with KJP's stuff, or The Folding Knife, which is a stand alone, but wonderful as well.

    Memory, you'd really enjoy this book in that case…

    Edi, thanks for the review compliments!! I appreciate them!

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