The Shadow Prince
It’s hard to summarize The Shadow Prince because it’s different from any other romance novel I’ve ever read. In a way it reminds me of Robert Howard’s Conan, except that it’s not very exciting or amusing.
The book takes place in the Median Empire, which, in case you didn’t know (I didn’t), existed for several hundred years B.C. in what today is northern Iran and Azerbaijan. According to the novel, the empire is ruled by Hedeon, whose eldest son, Burian, is chieftain of the Busae tribe. His younger son, our hero Adrik, is chieftain of the Magii.
When Adrik was born, Hedeon’s mistress (and now his wife) Melina convinced Hedeon to sell Adrik to a demon named Malkaval. Apparently, when the time is right, Malkaval will take over Adrik’s human body, and Adrik himself will be damned to the Shadow Realm.
Our heroine Lorienne is a member of the northern Arizanti tribe. As the book opens, Lorienne is betrayed by a fellow Arizanti and is sold to the Busae. Burian gives her to his brother Adrik as a gift. Adrik knows that it would be merciful for him to kill Lorienne, rather than taking her to his home, because Malkaval will take over soon and will undoubtedly do something bad to Lorienne. But he takes her anyway, because he lusts after her.
Lorienne has been unconscious through all of this. She is more stunningly alluring out cold than most women can ever hope to be awake and fully made up. She sexually enthralls both Adrik and Burian – all before she comes to. Indeed, Adrik spends quite a bit of time staring at and fondling her “wondrous mounds” while she is unconscious, which did not endear him to me.
The author devotes no effort to building these characters. Lorienne is beautiful. Adrik is tortured. That’s all. No time is wasted developing their relationship. They have their first conversation on pages 29-42, the upshot of which is that Adrik is her master and she must do his bidding. Conversation number two starts 61 pages and several weeks later, and trails off into foreplay. Conversation three starts on page 140, and leads straight to sex. Then Lorienne tells Adrik that her mother prophesied that they would be together, and that’s that. That’s all the love story you get, and just about all the conversation, too.
The lengthy intervals between these encounters is filled with: the Median empire’s relationship with the Lydian empire; manipulations between Adrik, Hedeon, Melina, Burian, and Burian’s right-hand man Vlada; Adrik’s preparations for war against Lydia; Adrik’s negotiations with the Lydian ambassador; and one long skanky sex scene involving Burian, Melina (his stepmother), and a prostitute.
If the hero and heroine are one-dimensional and good, the villains are one-dimensional and bad. Hedeon is insanely evil; Melina is cunningly evil; Burian is selfishly evil; and Malkaval, the demon, is demonically evil. The other character of interest is Vlada, who suffers from conflicted loyalties. He actually thinks about his actions and is sometimes unsure what to do. This makes him by far the most human character in the entire book. He totally outshines the ineffectual hero during the book’s climax.
Considering what a small percentage of the book is devoted to character-building, it’s really too bad that the plot doesn’t hang together better. We are never told why the demon Malkaval wants to take over Adrik’s body. He is immortal and extremely powerful as he is. We never understand why Burian gives Lorienne to Adrik, since Burian is sexually obsessed with her, and goes so far as to kidnap Lorienne to get her back. The prose is bad, too. Melina’s eyes are “blacker than a moonless sky, and alive with malice.” Just a few paragraphs later they become as “dark and flinty as obsidian,” and a few paragraphs after that they “glitter with black fire.” Just about everything gets layered with metaphor that way.
I planned to give this book a “D-” until the end, when the already-thin plot suddenly gets completely ridiculous, people behave in ways that make no sense whatsoever, and I had to fight the powerful urge to put it down and not read the last 60 pages at all. The Shadow Prince has an unfamiliar setting, a plot that doesn’t work, pitifully shallow characterizations, and a melodramatic yet boring prose style. Not only do I not recommend it, I don’t understand what it’s doing in print.