Review published on September 26, 2016.
Neil Oliver’s Master of Shadows is epic in its scope. Weaving fiction around fact, Oliver takes the reader on an epic journey to the city of Constantinople in 1453.
For anyone with an interest in this period, there is much to enjoy, for instance, the minute detail in which Oliver recounts the great siege of Constantinople and his evocative portrayal of the city’s interior. At its heart, there also lies a grand adventure, pulling the lives of John Grant, Lena and the Byzantine Prince Constantine together in a way that defies expectations. At times, the links between these three can seem tenuous – the final revelation about two of the characters is almost a stretch too far. However, there is a romance to it that hovers throughout the novel, reinforced by Grant’s mystical sixth sense and his ability to feel the presence of others. Oliver explores the connections between people and, it seems, the ideology that pervaded the Byzantine era, namely that an individual’s destiny – a society’s, even – is preordained.
The novel is almost cinematic in its descriptions and, especially at the start, there is a depth to the characters that hooks the reader into the narrative. Badr is a particularly compelling individual whose shadow pervades the narrative. There are moments where the sprawling narrative and its vast array of characters almost spin out of Oliver’s control, but persistence is key because all the threads are ultimately entwined; the author is painting a bigger picture.
The novel is pleasing to read and any fan of Neil Oliver is likely to thoroughly enjoy it. The period of history he chose to set the novel in was what lured and hooked me throughout, and there is no better person to take you on a journey set in the Byzantine era than Oliver, a natural storyteller with great ambition.
Laura Roberts 4/3
Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver
Orion 9781409158134 pbk Jul 2016
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