Grayshade – 1 Shade of Gray

Back by popular demand (and because I chained him to a desk because I have been busy), our editor Will is here with a post about the new book Grayshade by Gregory A. Wilson

grayshade-digital-coverHaving been an avid reader of fantasy since my days as a child, I’ve gotten the opportunity to explore a wide variety of worlds and stories. From the heavy adventurer-focus of the Forgotten Realms books to the sardonic and dry wit of Discworld, all the way to the unique and unforgettable worlds of Sanderson’s Mistborn and Stormlight Archive series, fantasy fans have a wide breadth of choices for settings, characters, and worlds. It is partially due to this that authors have a choice to make when setting out the goals of their story and characters; do I try to expand the genre and write something never seen before, or do I write in the reader’s comfort zone and give them an enjoyable take on something they’ve seen before? Both of these options have their pros and cons, and we’ve seen fantastic series that follow both schools of thought. I mentioned Sanderson’s collections of stories as being an exemplar of building something completely fresh and new for a reader, and one need only look so far as Sullivan’s Riyria stories for how an author can take well-tread tropes and make them enjoyable without feeling like they’re pandering.

Grayshade and the world it takes place in attempts to fulfill both options. It is the second release in the brand new fantasy setting of Stormtalons, a series of 150 planned novels from a wide variety of writers. I’d like to take a second immediately after mentioning that to say, “Oh. My. God. That is a LOT of books.” Grayshade in particular is the first book in the self-contained The Gray Assassin trilogy. If the respective titles of the book and the trilogy it is contained within didn’t tip you off, let me do the honors. Grayshade is a book about an assassin of the same name. He is an Acolyte of Argoth, the god of justice, and has for his entire life to this point been a member of this order. We begin the book with Grayshade on a mission to assassinate a target, jumping directly into the action and never really stopping from there. Throughout the course of this book we learn more about the city of Cohrelle and the various religious orders that are contained within, as well as getting a look into a formative moment in Grayshade’s life and development as a character.

If this sounds like a well-trod path in other stories…well, it is. Following an assassin, or any character of nefarious profession, as they develop from a morally indifferent character to someone who takes a stand for their values and virtues is a trope that I’m positive everyone reading this blog has encountered at some point. I certainly don’t mean to paint that as a bad thing, necessarily. Tropes are tropes for a reason, and having something immediately familiar to readers as a touchstone into a brand new fantasy world and setting is very helpful in allowing the reader to place their focus on learning how this new world works without having to spend a great deal of mental energy on trying to understand where the main character is coming from. I think that Gregory A. Wilson does a good job in this novel of telling a satisfying, if familiar, story in a brand new world. I enjoyed Grayshade’s inner monologues and the way he went about his work to an impressive extent.

That being said, there were some things that started to get under my skin as the story went on, and kept me from truly losing myself in the reading. While I understand that Grayshade takes place in an entirely new setting, there were a great deal of names for objects and substances that seemed purposefully vague and opaque. At the 20% mark of the book (I read this as a Kindle ARC) there was the following line, “I laughed. ‘It’s rivid gas, first of all, not rethel. Rethel gas wouldn’t dissipate that quickly.’” What does this actually tell me about these substances? That they’re both dangerous and that one dissipates more quickly than the other. What this doesn’t tell me is why these substances are dangerous. Are they flammable? Poisonous? Do they explode? Are they acidic? I would have a much healthier respect for the substance if I actually knew what it did. This is a consistent issue I had with the book, whether it’s describing dangerous gasses, or never really describing what the “darts” that Grayshade uses in his missions look like. I want to know whether he’s talking about throwing knives or stars, whether they have a flat blade or are more like a stiletto. No, this doesn’t ruin the book, and no it isn’t a catastrophic error, but it’s a small thing that would have made it easier for me to fall into the story had it been addressed. It’s also an easy way to flesh out the world and setting that I thought was a missed opportunity.

The other issue, and a bigger one in my opinion, is that the pacing of the second half of the novel just felt off to me. Major events came out of nowhere and were handled in a page or two, while Grayshade’s travels through the districts and inner monologues were given entire chapters. The final showdown between Grayshade and his enemies was, while exciting and fun, over very quickly and without the fanfare it deserved. I was hoping for an epic showdown and was treated to a quick knife in the back. I felt let down at the end, which isn’t a note you want to end on in the first book of a trilogy.

Grayshade is a book that reminds me of so many other fantasy novels I’ve read. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. As I said earlier when I mentioned the “assassin with a moral compass” thing, tropes are essentially a gray area (see what I did there?) in storytelling. They’re not good or bad by default, as they’re essentially just references to experiences the reader has had before. What makes or breaks them is how they’re used. Grayshade has both the good and bad. It’s great that the book provides an easy to understand touchstone into this new world with a perfectly functional take on a story we’ve heard before, and bad that it relies on previous experiences for basic things like the gas issue I mentioned earlier. I think this is essentially the chicken noodle soup of fantasy. You’re not going to be blown away, and this isn’t going to be the best you’ve ever had, but you can’t go wrong with Grayshade if what you’re looking for is something familiar and satisfying.

Rating: Grayshade – 7.0/10

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