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Reviewed by Eduardo Aduna for Readers' Favorite
James Calbraith’s "The Shadow of Black Wings" is an immersive fantasy yarn. The young dragonrider Bran lives in an alternate version of 19th century Western Europe, where magic is a staple and dragons are steeds of war. His loyalty to his lower-class dragon Emrys has made his life in the Academy difficult, so much so that he would do anything to leave it once and for all. Once free from his academic responsibilities, Bran struggles to find his own way in life. Amidst the geopolitical tumult of the times, Bran takes Emrys and joins his father on a trip to the faraway land of Qin, on the Eastern part of the world. A misfortune of battle finds him separated from his father and his dragon. Deposited on the shores of Yamato by mysterious means, Bran must learn to adapt to the culture, language and people of this strange country. When Bran senses that Emrys is in trouble, he must find a way to come to the aid of his dragon, all while surviving a land whose people would most likely kill him on sight.
What a book! It had everything, and the author has blended all the aspects so well that it was difficult for me to place this book into one specific genre. Adventure? Oh it is there: strange lands, interesting characters, a determined protagonist and a dangerous world. Fantasy? With wizards and dragons and different facets of magic, I think fantastic elements permeate this novel. Alternative history? James Calbraith takes a slice of actual history and uses it to conjure up a world so familiar, so brilliantly plausible that I found myself lovingly immersed in it. His penchant for lore, languages and different cultures is dazzlingly displayed in all the details in the alternate history he has created. Steampunk? Countries in Cailbraith’s world are scrambling for majestic ships and engines of war. Clockwork and automatons just lurk in the far flung corners of his world, waiting for the chance to pop out. Steampunk is a yes. James Calbrath asserts his author’s prerogative and calls it historical fantasy. I don’t fully agree. I would call it a budding historical fantasy novel, the kind where the writing just flows and sweeps you away, transporting you into a parallel piece of history in a time where the different countries are just a hair’s breadth away from unleashing their forces and engaging in total war. It is hard to contain such a large-scale world into one book, and Calbrath barely manages, with the ending leaving the reader wondering why it had to end so soon. Still, if that ending was meant to make me crave the next book, it definitely succeeded.