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Siege of the Shadows


by Robert E. Krieg, 2016

After the frightful discovery of a mutilated corpse, the village of Woodmyst comes under the threat of shadowy figures. The ante is upped as nights pass. Their enemy is a master of the dark, luring victims outside and feasting on them. And they have unbelievable allies.

But why? Why harass this one small village with no riches and no military importance? And just what are they doing with the dead? Well, there are hints...

The story is set in a mock-Medieval tableau, but one without Christianity. OK, fine. But then how is it that we have characters named Peter and Michael? Those names have purely Christian or Jewish heritages and are not likely to exist in a society with multiple gods.

While trying to maintain a Medieval mind frame, it's also jarring to run into words like “paranoia” or phrases like “comfort zone” and “adrenaline rush”. While people may have always had those feelings, those phrases come with significant modern baggage.

And for a village, even a large one, there are an awful lot of lords and ladies. The usual number of lords residing in a village (unless a castle is present) is zero.

Woodmyst also has a warrior caste that wears armor. In an oppressive medieval clime, villagers are discouraged from having more than axes and hunting spears when an enemy showed his head. The majority of warriors in a village are farmers with pitchforks. A less oppressive barbarian society, such as the Celts, Norsemen, or Angles and Saxons, would be more warlike but only because they periodically raid their neighbors.

Maybe I expect too much. How can I expect historical accuracy in a world where men hunt a flightless Phorusrhacos for dinner?

I can't of course. So let's just enjoy the story for what it is. And what this book does well is convey a sense of paranoia (even if I don't like the word's use) as a nameless, faceless threat conspires to pick off the villagers a few at a time. At first.

The book culminates in a great siege of the village as the hooded “Night Demons” and their allies attack. There's plenty of action, and mostly it's told coherently. But one question endlessly nags the minds of the villagers and the reader: Why?

One also wonders why, once the hooded Night Demons begin to be killed, that no one pulls off their hoods to see who is attacking them. Even when they have an entire day after the big battle to do so. But that would spoil the big reveal at the end.

The writing style is acceptable but not overly engaging. It suffers from a profusion of passive language, saying “They were coming” instead of “They came”. Simply correcting this one problem would make this book far more enjoyable to read.

Sentences that should be evocative of peril just run on: “There stood a rider on horseback cloaked in long black coverings staring towards the village.” Or: “The small band of soldiers was too engrossed upon the hooded warriors attacking them from the opening to the passage.”

I can't say I understand why, at the conclusion of a journey home, Peter says, “We should get going.” There may be an excellent reason for this sentiment but it is not made clear in the narrative.

But a worse problem is having lots of people living in this village and all with lines but none of them are particularly distinctive. The principle characters, Peter, Richard, Hugh, and Alan are all interchangeable. Barnard just barely stands out because he's the chief. Lawrence stands out because he's the cowardly one but cowards always die first in fiction.

The story does a good job of showing us the paranoia of the people of Woodmyst as they try to understand who is tormenting them. Despite reservations about the historicity of the setting, this is an engaging story, and has the reader anxious to find out what's really going on. The siege is especially exciting.

3 stars.

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