The Shadow of What Was Lost is an unfortunate testimony to the fact that most fantasy authors aren’t even attempting to write something unique. Everything about this novel is derivative. Perhaps it’s simply my pessimism, or the fact that I’ve been reading the genre for 2o years, but nothing within the pages of The Shadow of What Was Lost was remotely new or interesting to me. Islington stated that he took his inspiration from authors such as Jordan and Sanderson, but I would argue that he blatantly plagiarized their work.
The characters are perhaps the most frustrating part of The Shadow of What Was Lost. They all bleed together, as none of them have any individual personalities. Caeden, Davian, and Wirr all speak and act the exact same. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. I honestly couldn’t tell you how old any of these characters are, or even what their appearance is. Davian is potentially the most boring protagonist I’ve ever read, and that on top of the fact that he’s your typical ‘orphan peasant turned powerful hero’ that we have all read about a million times. Wirr is simply good at everything, while Caeden is secretly the ultimate villain but can’t remember it. My biggest decision to abandon the Licanius trilogy stems from the fact that I really don’t care about what happens to any of these characters.
The plot itself reads as though Islington took various things that he loved from other books and pieced it together at random. It’s not very coherent or engaging. My interest started to wane when Davian was transported back in time to unlock his Augur abilities. The worldbuilding is also severely lacking. Outside of the fact that the Boundary is failing, there’s apparently only one other problematic issue in the world – the Gifted. No political intrigue or petty wars to be found here, just those darn Gifted. I never really understood why Gifted who fail their Trial were turned into Shadows at all, nor why they were looked at as being lesser when the general populace hated Gifted anyways.
Islington’s prose is also nothing to get excited about. This is perhaps the first epic fantasy novel I’ve read with almost no description whatsoever. I literally couldn’t tell you what anything in this world looks like. Not the people, not the places – nothing. I really don’t understand why you’d choose to write in this genre – a genre literally without rules and limitations – if you weren’t going to describe anything. It also appears that Islington couldn’t make up his mind in terms of naming different things within his world. There are fantasy-fare names such as sig’nari and sha’teth alongside such mundane titles as Administration and Gifted. It’s jarring and off-putting. Another, perhaps lesser, complaint is the repetitiveness of Islington’s writing. If I tried to count the number of times a character sighed or rubbed their forehead or screwed up their face I would lose my mind.
The popularity and abundant positive reviews for The Shadow of What Was Lost is disheartening, as it shows that fans of the fantasy genre will accept anything. This is why the genre has become so stagnant. If an author like Islington can chop up Sanderson and Jordan and Tolkien and mash them together and call it something new – and then receive overwhelming praise for it! – how will the genre ever move forward?