Wednesday, August 15, 2018

REVIEW: Callis and Toll - The Silver Shard

City of Secrets was the surprise hit that no one saw coming. The first AoS novel to focus on the common human, and take us away from the superhuman stakes of the Stormcast. Now Nick Horth is back with its sequel, The Silver Shard, but can it live up to the hype from its predecessor?

Alright, let's answer that first question right away, yes it absolutely does! The Silver Shard is probably one of my favorite AoS novels yet. Following the exploits of the Witch Hunter Toll and the ex-Free Guilder Callis, Silver Shard has a distinctively fun and super engaging story. I would equate this book to being the AoS literary equivalent of an Indiana Jones movie (pre Crystal Skull), combined with the non-stop fun of the 1999 The Mummy, and all the high seas action of the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Basically, it's the ultimate AoS swashbuckling, treasure hunting action novel.

Our story starts with an aelf named Shev, who is in the employ of a mysterious masked man and his henchmen. The group is on the trail of a lost city and the tomb it is said to contain. This is where I got my strong Indian Jones/Tomb Raider vibe. You see, Shev isn't your typical aelf, no, she's a treasure hunter who was orphaned at a young age and raised by a human, who himself died over 50 years ago from old age. It's a really cool setup which I'll get back to later when I talk about the characters. Once they find the city infested with orruks, they quickly sneak past the brutes and discover the tomb they have been looking for. This entombed man was a renowned traveller during the Age of Myth and was said to have seen more of the realms than any other mortal ever. The masked man hopes to find a map within his tomb to another lost city which contains the treasure he's actually after. However, all they find is the man's body, and for Shev, a mysterious fake eye. When she retrieves it she discovers it's actually made of shadeglass and contains the soul of the ancient traveller who begins talking to her in earnest.

This is where it all begins to unravel for her and she soon discovers that her employer is not as ambivalent and scholarly as he portrayed himself. Once he discovers the shadeglass he tries to take it from her, even if that means killing her, and Shev, being an aelf, outmaneuvers them and flees for her life through the city. Cue the action scene as she runs the a decrepit temple, now becoming overrun with orruks who have become alerted to their presence. Outside, in the jungles of the Taloncoast of Ghur, she almost literally runs into Callis and Toll, alongside Captain Zenthe and her crew of Scourge Privateers. Without giving anything away, we find out they are here due to Toll being on the trail of the masked man, who's a prominent figure from his past, and a man who must be brought to Sigmar's justice.

After a brief confrontation where Toll almost dies due to his recklessness in pursuing his query, the band flees with Shev, now a kinda-sorta prisoner of their's, to the high seas. The whole middle section of this book focuses on their exploits on the seas, and this is some of the most fun scenes I have read for AoS. It feels grounded and extraordinary at the same time. If you like gigantic shark like creatures, sea-faring piratic Bloodreavers, monstrous maelstroms, and seedy pirate kingdom islands, then you'll love all of this. It's definitely a side of AoS we haven't seen before since as far as boats go we've been a bit focused on the Kharadron. Don't worry though, because they're in here as well. While all of this is going on, the masked man pursues his own quest through dubious powers to try and make it to the lost city before Toll's gang.

The final third of the book is fast paced and a ton of fun. As they clash on the pirate island and the final location of the lost city located atop some floating mountains, everything comes to a head. Though the set pieces are great and the action thrilling, the characters are where it really shines and the book never forgets that. Throughout all of it it makes sure to keep a focus on our heroes, with Callis and Shev shining the most. The finale is epic, but fitting for the smaller scale of this story. It definitely feels like there are high stakes, but at the same times feels personal and important to our characters. After flying through this book I'm ready for the next in the series! With how parts of this end as well I'll be interested to see how certain choices are handled going forth.

Callis was the star of City of Secrets, and he continues to be one of our central focuses here. He's definitely the most human out of the pair, with Toll being the older, grizzled vet. He's single minded in his pursuit, and comes across that way in the book. There's nothing wrong with that either, it's needed for the buddy cop dynamic of the series. It would be nice if in a future installment we get to delve a little deeper into the Witch Hunter's psyche though. Shev is the breakout star here, and I could see her having her own spinoff series. She's very unique, and aelf with fairly human sensabilties due to her upbringing, and the treasure hunter vibe is something new to the setting as well. I could really see her going the Ulrika route, with series that intertwines with the ongoing stories of Callis and Toll. Captain Zenthe continues to be awesome, as she was in City of Secrets. She definitely has a pirate's swagger and an aelf's confidence. Her first mate is a nice addition as well, and her interactions with the Kharadron near the end are great. I think if you had asked someone what race they would have wanted to see in an AoS story, Scourge Privateers would have been near the bottom, but Nick has done a fantastic job at making them exciting and most importantly, feel like a part of a functioning society. That's another thing that's handled well here, the setting. Well we don't spend much time amongst civilization, the time we do feel real and believable, and the Taloncoast feels like a swashbuckler's dream. Lastly, the masked man, the villain of the piece, is pitch perfect for this book.

The Silver Shard wraps up a ton of storylines from City of Secrets, which almost feels like an extended prologue to this story now. It delivers a bunch on its own though, with some of the most fun scenes I've read yet. You can get by without having read City of Secrets, but you'll definitely get more out of this story by having read it first. I think these two books would be the perfect introduction for someone unfamiliar with AoS. They have enough going on that are common in action fantasy stories that it will feel familiar to them, but with a unique AoS spin on it. If I had to think of one word to describe this book it would be cinematic. I think this could very easily translate to the screen and would work wonderfully. I can't recommend this book enough. It was so much fun I almost want to read it again already. I'll eagerly be awaiting more stories of Callis and Toll in the future.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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