Perhaps one of the most popular legends ever told is that of King Arthur.  It has been portrayed in books, comics, plays, and countless feature films.  Full of striking characters, heroism and magical acts, the tale of King Arthur has captivated and engrossed people for ages.  However, have you ever wondered how the legend of King Arthur came to be?  What was the background, and inspiration which led to names such as Arthur and Merlin becoming so beloved and recognizable?  Enter Shadowland: A Tale from the Dark Ages, by C.M. Gray.  All fans of historical fiction and fantasy will absolutely love this tale of bravery, heroism and the rise of King Arthur!

The novel takes place in the dark ages at a time when the Romans had recently deserted the land we now know as Britain.  The departure of their rule left chaos, violence, and a struggle for control of the area by various tribes.  It also saw an invasion by the Saxons take place and a growing desperation for a Briton leader to emerge.  This is the setting as we are introduced to a youth by the name of Usher.  After his village is destroyed and his parents murdered, Usher and his friend Cal pursue the invaders hoping to save the hostages who were abducted, which included Cal’s sister.  Along their travels they meet and befriend a warrior by the name of Meryn.  Will this trio manage to save the hostages and exact vengeance?  Or is there much more at play here than meets the eye???  As always, I strive to review books without giving away too much of the plot, so suffice it to say that the trio will encounter adventure, magic and tragedy… and that things are not always as they seem!

While the plot of this story is action packed and engaging, it is also very cleverly delivered as a narrative by two old storytellers by the name of Usher Vance and Calvador Craen (ring a bell?)  Such a method allows the readers to have access to the story events from multiple perspectives which in turn generates a high level of interest and engagement with the tale.  Using this format, the author is able to reveal bits and pieces of key information as the plot steadily unfolds.  This ensures that a high level of ongoing suspense and curiosity remains piqued.   When you add the noble and identifiable power of friendship theme to the mix, you have a truly magical tale.   Storytelling at its finest!

Character development is another key element in any work of fiction.  C.M. Gray once again hits the mark with the characters in this novel.  They are all shown to have many strengths and weaknesses and experience remarkable growth throughout the tale.  The characters are not portrayed as lofty and impeccable beings.  They all have hopes and dreams as well as fears and self-doubt.  This not only makes them quite believable as characters, but very identifiable to the average reader as well.  For instance, the growth of Usher and Cal from young, gullible boys stuck in a tree, to warriors in their own right, is entirely plausible due to their ongoing evolution in the story.  It happens relatively quickly, but having access to their innermost thoughts and fears makes it entirely identifiable and believable.

There can be little doubt that when we are dealing with historical fiction, setting is critical.  Whether there are numerous components of fantasy or not, the time and place must be authentic and genuine.  One would be amiss to overlook the awesome job that Gray does in depicting the setting in Shadowland.  He is able to aptly describe the setting in such a way that it can easily be visualized and appreciated, but not lose the reader’s interest at the same time.  A very delicate balance!   To turn the written word into pictures is a tricky business.  It is also historically accurate in regards to the time era.  This was actually an age of great transition and turmoil.  It truly was a Shadowland.  This dark and dangerous setting runs throughout the novel, and makes for a wonderful balance against the theme of love, loyalty and friendship.   Also, by presenting the story as a narrative delivered by two old storytellers, we were able to be transported through time in a very convincing way.

There is very little hesitation for me to recommend this book for a Young Adult and up audience.  I found it to be a riveting and clever novel which puts an entirely satisfying spin on a key legend.  The author weaves his craft throughout the story in such a way that the reader is mercifully granted respite from their current reality and delivered into an age of magical  and enchanting adventure.

4 Spellbinding stars for this one!