Indie author Dewi Hargreaves's debut offering, The Shield Road, is an interesting specimen. The premise of the book, a collection of fantasy short stories set in chronological order in the same world, intrigued me, much like I imagine the idea for The Hindenburg also did for the masses in the 1930s. Unfortunately, in terms of execution - much like The Hindenburg - the book doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Now that I’ve given away my opinion in the opening paragraph along with a masterful link to a historical tragedy and filled my quota for the week, let’s roll it back and unpack that first paragraph.
A lot of people talk about not judging a book by its cover but let’s be realistic. Every single book ever published in the history of humankind has been and always will be judged by its cover. Luckily, the cover for The Shield Road is awesome.
The cover’s really solid, with simple shades of complementary colours subtly breaking up the cover nicely without being too jarring. The green and blue are broken up nicely by the white tones of the moon and shield. The cover’s got a nice matte finish and is really good to touch.
The only thing that bugs me about the cover is the title. It jumps out and catches my attention but the art doesn’t quite gel with the more subtle cover art. Overall, credit has to go to Dewi for the stellar work he did with the cover.
So, the cover’s great but what about the writing itself? Is it worth the ink? I’d have to say it is for the most part. Dewi’s writing style is enjoyable and pretty easy to follow with prose that isn’t too long-winded and sluggish.
His descriptions aren’t excessive, it’s no Wheel of Time situation, which is a good thing. It gives me enough of a picture in my head so I have a sense of where I am in that world and what’s going on at that point in time. All of this stuff didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story too much and really drew me in.
The characters throughout the book unfortunately have impacted my enjoyment of the stories. Up until The Moss Baron about a quarter through the book, most of the characters felt just one-dimensional and flat to me. Talfrin the Bladekin felt like the first real character that appeared in the book. He was developed and had a bit of nuance to him. He was engaging and believable and made me want to keep reading the story.
I was glad every time he turned up in the book and was far and away my favourite character. This wasn’t a high bar to clear unfortunately as most of the characters don’t have that same spark that Talfrin has. They weren’t cardboard cut-outs for the most part but just didn’t grab me.
This whole premise of the book is one long overarching story told through the short story collection. Like I said earlier, it’s a nice idea and the whole reason I picked up this book in the first place. The arch felt just really scattershot to me in execution; only a few of the stories felt like they were actually contributing to that narrative and the rest felt like filler.
For me, the arch doesn’t really start kicking in until around The Keeper - 125 odd pages into the book - and when your book doesn’t start until 125 out of the 160 odd pages that’s not a great sign.
So yeah, The Shield Road. Give it a read and form your own opinion. Personally, I look forward to Dewi’s next work as all the good and bad from this book are going to help improve the next work.
Have you read The Shield Road? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments down below.
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