The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Shards of Light

Shards of Light

There are a multitude of problems facing the city of Cryssigens in this heroic fantasy series by William L. Hahn. The emperor the city reluctantly serves has just been overthrown and replaced by a dwarf who had the utter gall to conclusively demonstrate that the former Overlord of the city was secretly leading a cult of demon worshipers. Now it’s time to pick a new Overlord who will determine whether or not the city will rediscover its peace and stability or erupt into chaos.

This a wonderful series—one of my favorite fantasy tales of all time. The thing that makes it so different than the typical fantasy is the remarkable distinctiveness with which Hahn draws his three primary characters. Captain Justin, Feldspar the Adrenalin-Crazed Stealthic (quite possibly the most unique hero in all of fantasy literature), and the mysterious priestess, W'Starrah Altieri. Their voices are utterly unique and well-suited to their personalities. And the crisis they confront is totally satisfying.

The Ring and the Flag by William L. Hahn

E-book version:

The Ring and the Flag is great Heroic Fantasy in a novella-sized package. If you've never read this author, this is the perfect book to sample him with. There's a lovable hero, a serious challenge, an unexpected plot twist, an exciting battle which really shows off the hero's leadership skills and tactical understanding, and to top it all off there's an awesome fantasy beast. As an extra special bonus, it's easy to see that Hahn's fantasy world is teaming with other stories just waiting their opportunity to reach the reader. I'm off to start the second book in the series. 

Audio version:

This is my second time reviewing this novella. I really enjoyed the e-book version. It’s set in a richly developed world where new stories wait for you around every twist of the trail. I was so thrilled with it that I rushed out to immediately start the second and third books in the series and waited very impatiently until the astoundingly good conclusion was finally published. So let’s be clear, this is a great story on its own merits, but when you add the author’s exceptional audio talents, The Ring and the Flag leaps to a whole new level of excellence. Hahn handles the voices of his cast of heroes superbly, and then adds in numerous sound effects that bring his world to ever-more-vibrant life. It’s exceptional! The sort of story you’ll gladly listen to again and again and again.

Fencing Reputation by William L. Hahn

E-book version:

I finished reading Fencing Reputation today and all I have to say is that Feldspar is just the right kind of crazy. Okay, I can't leave it at that. The tone of this novel is totally different from that of the first book in the series and it really fits a very different kind of hero. This is a fast-paced combination of action and mystery and the only real problem I have with it is I have to wait for the next two books to be published to find out what's going to happen. Well done indeed! 

Audio version:

When I first read this book I scored it 4 stars and now after having listened to the audio version I can’t figure out why it was so low. Feldspar is an intriguing character who caught my interest immediately. As I noted in my first review, he’s the right kind of crazy—talking to himself, arguing with himself, bargaining with himself as he seeks excitement and danger in the service of Hope. Feldspar is hired to find a priceless treasure that could play an important role in the political struggle roiling the city of Cryssigens and watching him hunt for it is pure pleasure.

For me, however, the wild ride of Feldspar stalking the night was not the greatest joy of the novel. It was watching this friendless loner forge his first genuine human relationships and seeing how that affected his preconceptions of the world and his place in it.

This truly is a great book. There was no place in the story where I wanted to stop the recording and put it away for a while. The narration was superb with just enough sound effects to lift it above a simple book reading. If you like clever fantasy adventures with one of the best protagonists I’ve ever encountered, give Fencing Reputation a try. 

Perilous Embraces by William L. Hahn

The first time I read this book, I raced through it seeking to build on the first two and learn what was coming next. That was a mistake. This is a book that needs to be savored. It deserves a saunter rather than a run. And if you are wise enough to take your time, you will find a novel of great subtlety deftly handled by an extraordinary writer.

William L. Hahn’s greatest strength may be his ability to adopt extremely distinctive voices for his characters. The first three books in his Shards of Light series each picks up the tale of a different player in an unfolding political crisis. Captain Justin is trying to keep the region peacefully in the Empire. Feldspar, the adrenaline junky, gets involved despite his lack of interest in politics when he’s hired to locate a magical artifact. And finally, the priestess, Altieri, who is trying to build a political alliance that will prevent the Emperor from feeling the need to come forth and crush a rebellious region. Each book in the series thus far has been told from a different one of these perspectives and each in a very distinctive voice. And each story weaves in and out of the tales of the other characters braiding the series together in a most satisfying way.

Perilous Embraces is the critical book of the series. Justin and Feldspar, the heroes of the first two novels, are outsiders who never really understand the civil war that is brewing. But the priestess heroine of this third novel has the familiarity with the city to fully understand the danger just as she has the skills to sort through the factions and find out who the true villains are. So W'Starrah Altieri, guided by the confusing visions of the future bestowed upon her by the Stargazer, risks everything she has to keep her city from erupting in bloodshed and death using the weapons of a politician—words and innuendo—rather than swords and daggers.

Once again, Hahn’s narration and sound effects richly add to the drama of his story. He is a master of the spoken word and it greatly enhances the experience. Right up to the utterly surprising end. 

Shards of Light by William L. Hahn

E-book version:

For those of you who have been impatiently waiting for this book to be published for the past six months, rest assured that it is worth every moment of anticipation. In Shards of Light, Hahn masterfully brings the plotlines from the three preceding books together into a climatic final novel that tops everything that came before it. There is more action, more mystery, and thankfully, many more revelations as the conspiracy is exposed. There are also several significant surprises and some important moments of painful character growth.

My favorite character coming into this book was Feldspar and he holds on to the top spot, but just barely. Captain Justin gains some important depth and Altieri—I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll settle for reporting that she grew mightily in my esteem. There are supporting characters which are also increasingly important, not the least of which is the Man in Grey whom I gather has a couple of books of his own which I will be reading soon.

There is a lot to praise in this concluding volume. Hahn has always impressed me with his ability to adopt different voices for his characters and he interweaves those voices effortlessly in this novel. Yet, he’s so much more versatile than that, moving from deft military actions to the spy-like efforts of Feldspar to the complex swirl of politics and religion which motivate so many of the powers in the city. Perhaps what strikes me most profoundly as I look back upon it is how rich Hahn’s Lands of Hope are in their history. I can’t stop here. I’m going to have to read the rest of them. 

Audio version:

Shards of Light was a great novel even before William L. Hahn added his audio talents to the text. It’s the capstone to an extraordinary fantasy series that mixes deft military action and thrilling cloak and dagger adventure in a headlong rush to prevent a mad elf from using some religious fanatics and a monstrous army of Despair from destroying the city of Cryssigens in his quest for power. The last three books brought us to the point of uncovering and understanding the nefarious plot. Now it remains to be seen if our heroes have what it takes to save the city. It’s far from certain, as the end of book 3, Perilous Embraces, already showed us. If you think you know precisely what will happen in the conclusion, my guess is that you’re wrong.

So to be crystal clear here, we’re talking about a five star text which I have already reviewed under the e-book edition. What I want to discuss now is how an excellent audio narration can take a superb novel and elevate it into something that breaks the five-star scale. I have listened to hundreds of audio books in the past two decades and every once in a while you find a narrator who has the magical combination of vocal talents to bring a text to life in a manner that the mere printed page will never succeed in doing. It’s the subtle intonations that convey fear, excitement, joy and anger. It’s the wide variety of voices that key the listener to who is speaking before the text gives the information away. It’s the energy that propels the tale forward with ever growing power as we rush to an epic and wholly satisfying conclusion. Then you add in a smattering of special sound effects—the breaking of glass, the roar of flames, the shriek of a griffon—that trick the listener into thinking you are right there in the action.

The end result of combining a gripping adventure with the vocal talents of a master performer is a titanic listening experience. Shards of Light delivers at all levels—plot, characterization, surprises and performance. Treat yourself to this one. If you love epic fantasy, I bet you’ll find yourself returning to it again and again.