High fantasy meets space opera in this generic but occasionally gripping epic.
Naytan is a patient man. For the past two years, he’s been in exile on the hot and dusty planet Aultlas, slowly planning a military expedition to retake his homeworld Loarshette, currently occupied by the cruel forces of the Bassarian Empire. When the sponsors of his crusade, the Alliance, pull the plug on his mission mere minutes before launch, Naytan is understandably upset. Readers, too, will have cause to be upset: the next hundred pages or so provide only slight character development and cultural background as the pace of the story slows to a crawl. However, once Milne dispatches with this narrative throat clearing, The King & The Shadows proceeds briskly. The Alliance reveals to Naytan that a series of encrypted Bassarian radio transmissions–known as â€œGhost Whispers”–have resumed. Having spent five years waging revenge in the â€œAttrition War,” the Alliance can’t risk letting the Bassarians gain the upper hand. Naytan must decode the secret behind the Ghost Whispers or the Alliance will have no choice but to bomb Loarshette to neutralize the threat. Naytan is not alone in his quest. His commando team includes the beautiful but hard-edged dragon rancher Ailee, as well as the Velle-Saar, a band of warriors whose elvish appearance belies their mysterious, supernatural traits. Most of the traditional high-fantasy elements (elves, trolls, sorcerers, etc.) serve as mere window dressing in Milne’s epic, but the sword-wielding, ethereal Velle-Saar (and their arch-nemeses, the Suel-Forge) represent a genuinely interesting twist on the vampire mythos. Indeed, the Velle-Saar overshadow the other storylines as the novel plods its way to conclusion. It’s a pity Milne doesn’t allow them to take center stage earlier on, as the other sci-fi and fantasy elements in this tale represent a studiously conventional take on their respective genres.
After several false starts and dead ends, The King & The Shadows finally finds its voice.