Author: Mark O’Dell
Originally Published by Vanguard Press in 2021
Review by Miriam Atkinson
The Shade of Highfall: The Tale of Shrew is Mark O’Dell’s debut high fantasy novel. Set primarily in the towering city of Highfall, the story alternates between the journey of our protagonist Shrew and the antagonist cult of the Crimson Sect.
Populated with humans, sylvan and legends of the ancient fey, the plot starts off with a contained storyline of Shrew’s childhood on the streets of Highfall’s poorest district before expanding to feature magic and mysteries and a conflict that will either save the world or open it up for evil.
When I started this novel this first thing I noticed was the incredibly detailed descriptions – a feature that I was glad to see was continued throughout the story. Due to the descriptions I could easily visualise all of the characters and the locations. It is clear to me that O’Dell must have carefully planned the city of Highfall and the various levels of society found there before writing The Shade of Highfall.
The novel is divided into four parts, with each one signifying an important change in the story. When we first meet Shrew as a child she is living alone, using her wits and quick fingers to steal what she can to survive. The Shade of Highfall builds gradually and I really appreciated this slower pace as it allowed the novel to take its time and properly introduce Shrew and Highfall. It was very enjoyable to follow the story as it progressed and see Shrew grow and develop into a fierce, independent woman with the Silent Knife guild and become the Shade of Highfall.
Now that I know the ending, I’m looking forward to reading this novel for a second time. I suspect that The Shade of Highfall is one of those stories where seemingly ordinary details and pieces of dialogue have much more significance on the second read-through. For example, I didn’t guess the twist about Shrew’s origin so I’m interested to see if I can pick up on any clues I missed the first time.
One of my favourite parts of the story was the addition of the magical daggers. While magic is present in this world it is not commonly used. Shrew encounters a dagger whose power comes from the spirit of an ancient fey. As well as being entertaining, I thought this was a really clever way of bringing the past and present together and giving the reader a glimpse into Highfall’s long history.
Sometimes it could be a little difficult to keep track of the various names used within the story however the book comes with a helpful glossary at the back for those readers who, like me need a reminder every now and again.
The Shade of Highfall: The Tale of Shrew is a fantastic novel with vivid characters set in wonderfully detailed locations. Overall I really liked and enjoyed the story. I believe the novel is a great new addition to the high fantasy genre.
‘The Shade of Highfall: The Tale of Shrew’ was published on Reedsy Discovery in August 2021. This review is also available on Discovery’s website.
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