Guest Review: The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, by Amy McCulloch

Got another guest review for you today, courtesy of Joanne Hall! She’s taking a look at The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, the first book in the Knots Sequence from Amy McCulloch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this one is on my own TBR pile, and after reading Joanne’s thoughts on it I’ll certainly be bumping it up the list…

“Now swear it. The most excellent promise you can make. Swear as my only brother, on our lives…” (Elliott, E.T.)
Kiddie swears, pinkie swears, cross my heart and hope to die. It seems that children take their promises much more seriously than adults, and the consequences for breaking a promise are much more painful. In “The Oathbreaker’s Shadow,” Amy McCulloch takes that idea and spins it out to its extreme. In Darhan, promises are bound by magic and sealed with knots. Anyone who breaks a promise is scarred and sent into exile into the desert, haunted and persecuted by their shadow, the shade of the person whose trust they betrayed.
Raim has worn a promise knot since he was a baby, too young to make a promise, and he thinks nothing of it until the night he swears allegiance to his best friend and future Khan, Khareh. That pledge, somehow, breaks the mysterious promise he doesn’t remember making, and, scarred and confused, he is cast out of society to wander in the desert until he is picked up by a nomadic tribe, the Alashan, who take him to the fabled city of Lazar, the city of the exiles. Only there can he find out more about his mysterious promise, and clear his name as an oathbreaker.
“The Oathbreaker’s Shadow” is a very strong debut, with empathetic characters – McCulloch really puts poor Raim through the emotional wringer and the reader is with him every step of the way, and although Khareh’s journey from amiable best friend to power-mad despot isn’t unpredictable, she does take care to show traces of the boy he was in the man he becomes. We can sympathise even while recoiling at his most barbaric acts, and that’s skilful writing. Much thought has also gone into the world-building, the lives and customs of the nomadic tribes that criss-cross Dahar and the desert lands beyond, and into the magic that binds their promises.
The book falters slightly in the final third, where it feels a little rushed and bitty, as if a few crucial scenes have been left out, and that was disappointing after such a strong beginning. But it’s a minor miss-step, and the book ends on a cliff-hanger that promises very good things for the future of the trilogy.
…Good enough for me! I may even squeeze this one into my planned holiday reading schedule.
Many thanks to Joanne for providing this review!


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