[Peer Review] “The Conqueror’s Shadow” by Ari Marmell

Disclaimer: I’ve known Ari for a few years now, and we have met socially a few times. I purchased my own copy of this, which sat on my Kindle for a couple of years until I finally got around to it in my queue.

I picked up The Conquerer’s Shadow because I liked the premise, and because I haven’t actually had the pleasure of Ari’s prose (although I was familiar with his RPG work). The idea is that an evil overlord tries to overthrow the kingdom, like they all do. This one fails, and disappears with his captive. Many years later, when the warlord has retired under a new name and with a family, a new warlord tries to recreate the previous conquest, and the original warlord has to done his skeleton armor to try and stop him.

I started reading it, and I figured out the plot twist in the first two chapters. I was a little disappointed by this, but I decided that this wasn’t a mystery but a fantasy novel, and I should just enjoy the ride. By around chapter thirty-five, I realized that I was expected to believe the plot twist, and it turned out to be something else entirely.

Let me be clear: Ari plays fair, as per a mystery. Further, he builds in a fake plot twist. And this is not presented in any way as a novel — it’s all a side to the core, strong fantasy story. Which is also funny and has compelling characters who also happen to be part of a plan to overthrow the nation at the behest of an overlord. On top of all of that, each chapter also incorporates flashbacks that slowly build up the history before the events of the story, and in such a way as they build on the story itself.

As a writer, this book is a course in how to accomplish a number of things simultaneously without losing momentum. It’s simply incredible. As a reader, it was an immensely entertaining story that was enjoyable to read.

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