The Shadow Cycles by Philip Emery (book review).

As a general rule, Immanion Press produce good-looking books that are a pleasure to read. They have good writers in their stable such as Storm Constantine, Tanith Lee and Freda Warrington. They publish mostly fantasy and non-fiction which makes for good reference books for the fantasy writer. I admit that their humorous books do not appeal to me, but that is personal taste. So when I found myself disliking ‘The Shadow Cycles’, my first question was, what is Immanion seeing in this book that I have totally missed?


Philip Emery’s intentions in writing this book are clear, as he explains in the thirty page essay at the back. He wants to reinvent the sword-and-sorcery genre story. While I have no issue with experimental fiction – there are some very fine examples that work against the odds – trying to rewrite what already exists is more of a problem. To put a new spin on the classical is fine but that is not what has been achieved here. By sword-and-sorcery, Emery is referring almost exclusively to the kind of pulp fiction written by such as Robert E. Howard and discounts more modern forms of High Fantasy where the barbarian hero is less prominent though I would consider the latter a development from the former.

The premise at the start of this book has potential. Five characters of the kind traditionally found in sword-and-sorcery novels are snatched from their home worlds and deposited into the sea of Shadow. They are called the Phoenix Prey because they are taken from their original world and dumped onto the new one in a column of fire. Four are rescued from the sea of Shadow by dragonremes, the fifth by a quinquerime. After a battle, the four are taken to the Dragonkeep, the fifth to Leviathan. Both of these are or, used to be, giant dragons. The former is slowly turning into crystal and the other is more like a petrifying abattoir. They are big enough to be regarded as cities, floating on the Shadow and are the only places where people live. There is an implication that these opposites are representatives of good and evil. Now that the Phoenix Prey have arrived, the Uroborus is near (the end of the world scenario to most of us). Basically, Leviathan will catch up with Dragonkeep and each will bite the other’s tail forming a writhing circle and destruction for all. What the Phoenix Prey can do is not actually very clear, neither is why they are there as it seems to be a random translocation of a number of barbarians with cursed weapons and skills. There may be fighting but there is no big resolution.

The extensive three-page listing of Emery’s other works at the back of this book seems to be about fifty percent poetry. This is no excuse for the author changing to poetic form part-way through for a brief while, except to emphasise the experimental nature of the book. The different poetic forms are meant to differentiate the characters which would be fine if it was good poetry…

I also found myself disliking the layout. A multitude of short or very short chapters run straight on down the page without the expected page break. The only real reason for this is to save paper. Emery’s style could be described, by some, as poetic. It is spare in that characterisation is not a high priority and he has a habit of using nouns as verbs. Occasionally this works but at others, it disrupts any flow to the prose that night have been there. There are interesting ideas here but they are allowed to lie leaden while the author follows a different agenda. As for reinventing sword-and-sorcery, for me, this has failed.

Pauline Morgan

April 2015

(pub: Immanion Press, Stafford, UK, 2011. 256 page enlarged paperback.Price: £12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907737-10-7)

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