Published: June 6th 2013 by Random House AU
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
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Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.
Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all - not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.
Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is what I expect from a quality YA fantasy novel – a complex world, riveting plot and developed characters woven together with skill. There are some things that could be improved upon, but overall, I enjoyed this novel a lot more than I’d expected.
For me, most striking aspect of the book is the world. McCulloch has envisioned a world where any promise or oath can be magically bound by strings, and if broken, the oathbreaker is permanently branded and cast out from the community. It defines the lives of the Darhan community, who abhor all oathbreakers and take every promise seriously. The novel is internally consistent – I didn’t come across anything that violated earlier information – and I love the way the author goes about introducing it to us. Raim, our protagonist, is part of a nomadic, tribal community which ekes out a living on lands that border a vast desert where they exile oathbreakers. Their way of life is vividly described by the author, and I found it easy to imagine their determination, pride, and how hard-won lives.
Raim, a simple goat-herder’s boy who befriended the future ruler of his community at a young age, is idealistic and a little exasperating at first. His friendship with Kanreh affords him more luxuries and freedoms than he would otherwise have, and has benefited his tribe immensely. It’s obvious that Kanreh is the leader of their duo, and Raim follows him happily. Raim aspires to one day join the élite warriors of his people, and be taken on by Kanreh as his Protector – his principle guard. Raim is almost naïve in the beginning, choosing to think the best of everyone around him and ignoring suspicious behaviour. Although he could not have known the consequences of swearing to be Kanreh’s Protector when he made the oath, I would have expected him to show the mysterious oath bracelet he’d had on since birth more respect. But I think I had this feeling because I knew what was going to happen, and wanted to step inside the book and warn Raim!
All the characters in The Oathbreaker’s Shadow are well wrought and dimensional – although it feels like they’re in danger of being stereotypes, McCulloch reveals a depth and complexity to almost everyone we meet. Aside from Raim, the other characters I liked were Raim’s grandfather, who is steadfast and probably has more secrets than he’s led on so far, and Wadi, the tough Alashan warrior who had more sense than any other character.
Although enjoyable, the plot is admittedly quite predictable, with most of the elements falling out exactly as I’d predicted. Most of this could have been avoided if the author hadn’t so heavily foreshadowed every development. There great big signs pointing to each plot development long before we encountered them throughout the narrative. This is one of the reasons I despaired of Raim in the last third of the novel: I knew what was going on, but he hadn’t put together the glaringly obvious clues, and it always frustrates me to no end when characters can’t see things that I plainly can.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is an admirable accomplishment, and I am extremely eager to read more about the world that McCulloch has created. A sequel is in the worlds (and indeed, necessary, from the way this book ended), and I’m very excited about it. I strongly recommend this novel to those looking to read an action-filled fantasy novel without ponderous politicking or an overly complex magic system.