This is a detailed review, response, and rebuttal of the fantasy book “Chronicles of Everfall – Shadow of the Conqueror” By Shad M. Brooks, abbreviated occasionally as SotC in this essay.
It’s quite interesting to hear Shad describe himself as being good at writing dialogue, but “no poet.” an evaluation I found apt. My strengths lie, if anything, reversed. I relish the well-turned phrase, and so found much of the prose clunky and dull. I likewise find crafting convincing dialogue challenging, so the conversations were quite inspirational for me. Shad seems to know where he needs improvement, so I hope the details below will be taken as encouragement to continue refining his craft.
I don’t normally invest this level of analysis and intensity in fantasy critique. The setting often doesn’t merit it, and the authors are often pretty closed to feedback. But Shad has made many video essays exploring the realism and internal logical consistency of fictional works and therein he seems fairly critical of others imaginative worlds, perhaps even harshly so at times. He also boasts of writing (the equivalent of) nine previous books, and states he is open to feedback and growth, so I feel any literary errors he commits are open to comment as well. We also share the Christian value system, so the moral implications of the book can be brought in too. In addition, the setting of SotC is so different from reality, and it offers so many concrete details of the magical physics, that it affords an unusually deep analysis. I so rarely get a chance to unleash my intelligent, creative, critical, and theological faculties in a fruitful way on an appropriate pairing of author and work that I leaped at this chance!
Shad himself admits that it could still have been much improved, and that he chose to publish the work in its current state despite these flaws. Not to say that it’s full of holes. There’s a lot to like about Chronicles of Everfall – Shadow of the Conqueror! And I made it through the whole thing without getting at all angry or confused by the author’s portrayal of the events. Indeed, I could have wished for a bit more emotion and ambiguity, which leads me to my first critique. SotC suffers from pervasive, extensive, constant, and dare I even say ubiquitous offenses against the fundamental literary principle of:
Show, Don’t Tell
This may be the worst part of the story, and believe me, it’s bad. The narrator tells us the majority of things about the characters instead of letting their words and actions speak for themselves. I can think of only two exceptions to this systematic failure which otherwise cripples the prose. The most prominent example is that we are constantly berated with how guilty Daylen feels about his past without being shown many actions to substantiate these claims.
As for the objects and scenes, those pieces of the drama that can neither act or speak, the descriptions are dry, dull, and menacingly utilitarian. Again, only a couple instances stand out as flavorful exceptions to this otherwise tyrannical dearth of even the barest hints of poetry or flair. We are often told how a scene is supposed to make us feel, instead of being given the materials to develop our own emotions about the matter. More often, though, the reader gets only the barest scraps of purely utilitarian description which would make even a Brutalist architect long for Gothic ornamentation.
For a seasoned author those two offenses would be damning enough, but there is a third failure which compounds the other two. Shad shows not even a glimmer of faith in his audience, explaining not only the facts, but the implications as well. Perhaps he is writing for addled idiots unable to draw even the most manifestly obvious conclusions, but I am not at all pleased with having been lumped so perfunctorily with that likely illiterate class.
There’s also quite a bit of exposition dump in the first few chapters. It’s broken into chunks, but I’d much rather have this backstory organically incorporated into the rest of the narrative. Just because the land floats in the air doesn’t mean there should be chunks of setting masonry tumbling down the narrative watercourses. These blisters of exposition become rarer as the plot goes on, but never entirely clear up. And another thing! He tends to go on pointless rabbit trails in description, chaining irrelevant spatial prepositions, as if his mind’s eye is wandering! And his word choice often repeats! And he uses the passive voice far too often! And his paragraphs are too short! Minor offenses, I know, but they add up. They wear on a man. Like an old wound. Or a nag.
These claims may seem exaggerated. Perhaps I’m simply too critical? One example will suffice. It is near the beginning of the book (the entire fifth paragraph of narrative to be precise) and thus does not constitute a spoiler of any appreciable magnitude. I choose it for that reason, but also because I have very few other annotated examples. These problems appeared so thick and fast that they rapidly and categorically overwhelmed my resolve to catalog them:
Daylen’s dark brown eyes slowly focused to his hand, which lay on the desk. Wrinkled and age-spotted, it was a constant reminder of how old he was.From Chapter One of Shadow of the Conqueror by Shad M. Brooks
Flavorless descriptions, the irrelevant spatial prepositions relating to the desk, telling us what he is reminded of instead of simply showing it, and drawing the obvious conclusion that he is old. A masterpiece crystallization of failures that recur incessantly. Indeed one begins to wonder if it is not an intentional stylistic choice! By the end I found myself amazed that such atrocities could be so rigorously executed, with something approaching mechanical regularity, and certainly to a mechanical effect.
Now you may say to yourself “Well, that’s all very well to criticize, but you couldn’t do any better.” but there you would be mistaken. I too am an author, and just to demonstrate my point, here is how I would re-write those two sentences. Perhaps you prefer Shad’s rendition. It is, at least, shorter. But I vastly prefer:
When Daylen recovered from his reverie, he was staring at a liver-spotted hand. Much like the ancient desk beneath it, the skin was riddled with seams and blotched with stains. He sighed, and the sound too was like the skin, thin and cracked.Paul Spooner
That’s enough on that topic. The fact that I finished the book, and got a good measure of enjoyment from it, demonstrates that these flaws are not fatal. But they stand to be much improved. Shad even seems aware of the “show, don’t tell” principle that summarizes most of these offenses, as he writes:
But being told of something is far different from experiencing it firsthand.Foreward to Chapter Four of Shadow of the Conqueror by Shad M. Brooks
Perhaps he just gave up at that point? Because there’s a difference between narrative and experience, the one can’t even attempt to approach the other? Ah well. I would like to dismiss it as lack of experience. My first attempt at writing a book exhibits many of the same problems. But this is Shad’s ninth book!
It is true that his first book was far worse, as he himself humbly admits. There has been great improvement! But there is still far to go. Keep listening to these lectures Shad! And never mind where he says “this can be overdone.” If you someday make it to Purple Prose territory, you can always tone it down, but you aren’t even close to overshooting that line yet.
Now, it’s not all bad. I especially appreciated these:
- With the beggar now dead, the punishment served, Daylen’s rage began to melt away, and he leaned against the other wall of the alley.
- God… What an ugly word. It sounds like a name for a pimple. Like, bother, I got another God on my face.
- I even thought I was lying when I spoke the words, but as I did, it became true.
- That’s why we’re called Bringers.
Before we leave the strictly literary commentary, and as evidence that I really did read the whole book intently, allow me to list the typos I found. Hopefully these will be fixed in a future edition.
- “hilly religion where” should be “hilly region where”
- “sellingdifferent” is missing a space
- “pilled” should be “pulled”
- “hews” should be “hues”
- “that boarded a single” should be “that bordered a single”
- “more efficient than” should be “more efficiently than”
- “First World War” implies that there is a second, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you want to draw on historical language from the real world, call it “The Great War” like they did in the interbellum after WWI.
It would take too long to list all of the terrible descriptions, but I earmarked a few that stood out as especially poor. They aren’t representative of the prose overall, but do give a taste of it.
- Finding a large rock that he could just barely lift, he found another. Way too wordy, and the complexity doesn’t add anything. Just say “He found two rocks he could barely lift.”
- The railing made the border between his front yard and the brick-paved road running past Daylen’s home. Dry and dusty, like the brick road.
- Daylen found the main road that led to the larger town where he could find a coach to the nearest city. A lovely example of those chained descriptions that I dislike so much.
- It was at this time that the name Dayless surfaced in reference to me. Wow. I get that Daylen might not be a very good writer in-world, but these are his dramatic self-loathing memoirs. Couldn’t you have done something like “It was they who hailed me “Dayless”, and I who made it true.”
- Imperious was the way it was for other reasons yet that didn’t mean he would let them look at it. No comment.
- “I know…” people are constantly telling each-other that they already know things. So, in addition to being written FOR five-year-olds, this story is also written ABOUT them?
- The Prime Constabulary was a long building made up of several larger square-like sections that were all joined between. It was a brick building with stone frames over all the windows and doors. The largest square section sat in front and in the middle of the rest of the building, about seven stories tall with a large double door at the front. Oh no! Oh Shad. So sad.
- He really was enjoying this. So, when I said that these weren’t representative? Maybe that wasn’t entirely true.
- Ahrek was incredibly powerful! He’s over NINE THOUSAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!
- …but he had needed that massive boost, as otherwise he would not have been able to cut through the whole island. Light, Shad! Can you not stop yourself from expositing all over your story? Oh, it’s everywhere! Who’s going to clean this up?
- …an innumerable number Yes. I am not making this up.
Beside all that, and judged as literature alone, there’s a lot to like! The sentence structure is fairly varied. The chapters flow naturally. The pacing is good. The spelling and punctuation is excellent. There are probably many more well executed aspects which simply faded into the background of general authorial competence. But it is that very background of competence which makes the above travesties so:
Yes, I used “blaring” instead of “glaring” intentionally, because there are two fantasy word choices in SotC which I feel it my duty to reproach. The first offered me offense before I had read the book at all, and has to do with the in-world magic system (which I will address in detail later). There are three disciplines of magic aligned along the moral axis and Shad, in a stroke, or perhaps a spasm, of alliteration named them Bringing, Blaring, and Binding.
The “good” kind is pretty obviously Bringing, but is Binding or Blaring more evil? It’s not apparent at first glance, which is a real shame! This is the core of the setting! You don’t want people to have to guess at who the villains are! It’s Blaring, by the way. For mechanical reasons, Light Binding is a morally neutral act, which… fine. Blaring is the evil one. Like, a trumpet I guess. An Evil Trombone. Why not Blinding? Blinding is way more evil! Or Butchering? Light Butchering sounds pretty scary. Light Bashing. Light Battering… reminds me of meringue actually. Light Blanking? Light Blacking. That’s the one. If you don’t like Blinding because it’s too similar to binding, use Blacking. Blackening? Light Blackening. There! You’re welcome.
The tragic thing is that “blackened” is consistently used throughout the book as a curse word. It’s right there! I didn’t even have to come up with it! Just use it for Shade magic and you’re done! <Sigh> Blaring had better have significant import in the sequels is the only other thing I’m going to say about that.
Okay, so that’s one of the words. The other one is made up, but is the noun form of enchanted, often called Artifacts in fantasy settings. Because the system works by infusing the light of the sun into things, enchanting is called Sunforging often contracted to simply Forging. Such objects are also linked to individuals, a state often known as Soul-Bound which opens some opportunities for synergy between the word Solar and the word Soul. So what is a solar powered soul bound artifact called in Everfall?
Sunucles. No reference to the pun that was just waiting there. No synergy with existing nomenclature. And what is it supposed to be referencing? Molecules? Barnacles? Knuckles? I can’t even imagine… how did – where did – this name come from? What? What. What were you thinking Shad! It could have been Solocks. Solinks. They look kind of like crystals, so maybe Crisols? Or, you know, stick with the good old standby Artifacts? Solarfacts? Okay. That one’s not great. Better than Sunucles, but still not great. You make it in a sunforge, so, Sunforgings? Solforgings. Soulforgings? “This is no ordinary sword. It’s a solforging!” Descriptive. Doesn’t sound like the unpleasant part of being keelhauled. Sold! … Sould?
And speaking of linguistics, let’s explore the way people speak in Shadow of the Conqueror under the general heading of:
Last section was pretty negative, so let’s start this off with some praise. The dialogue in Shadow of the Conqueror was quite impressive overall. Different people have subtle differences in the way they communicate, and on the whole they speak in a believable manner. Specifically, I really appreciated Ahrek’s lame, forced attempts at humor. It was endearing, and often made me chuckle to myself. The miscommunication between Cueseg and Lyrah was impressive as well. I also noticed a few Australian touches to the dialog, which were a welcome change from the standard American or European flavors of English. All well executed.
My primary gripe about character voice was actually with the segments of Daylen’s autobiography that start each chapter. I kept thinking to myself “Old men don’t write this way!” and – for that matter – I never got the impression that Daylen was an old man by the way he spoke, either. True, he often called people “kid” and “lad”, but the gravity, senility, and serenity of advanced old age seemed entirely absent. His age is mostly used as a justification for why he’s so blackened good at everything (which I’ll get into below), but the cocksure heat of youth should have long since faded into a sullen world-weariness to match his physical infirmity.
Daylen also starts off talking to himself, and comments that he has “gotten into the habit” of doing this. That’s fine as justification for why he’s narrating out loud to the audience at the beginning when he’s alone, but he instantly drops the practice when he is around other people. I do the same thing, so it’s not really a plot hole I guess. On the other hand, Daylen is supposed to have been doing this for 20 years, so you’d think the habit would have been harder to drop. Plus it would have been fun to have Daylen talking to himself in the presence of the other characters, and see their reactions to it.
The “show, don’t tell” issues do creep into the dialog from time to time, with characters describing things that they shouldn’t, and commenting when no comment is merited. But I found this habit less offensive in the dialogue than in the prose. Seems like it’s just the way people talk in Everfall. A local dialect that you get used to after a while. There were many lines which I felt could have been improved, but very few I found offensively bad. And even though I felt it could have been done better, the conversation at the emotional climax of the story moved me to tears. So, on the whole, I enjoyed the dialogue in SotC.
This is no mean feat! Writing natural sounding dialogue is tremendously difficult! You must, in a supreme act of empathy and imagination, balance on the pinnacle of articulating present experience and desire, not just for one fictional person, but for multiple characters simultaneously. Pulling this off convincingly for several characters with a shared history and culture is hard enough, but Shad demonstrates his mastery at several points in the story by writing conversations between characters of different cultural and religious backgrounds. As an author who struggles to write dialog myself, reading the dialogue in Shadow of the Conqueror was a real treat. Good on ya, Shad!
Before going on I feel the need for a short digression about:
I’m of the mind that if a story can be spoiled by knowing the ending or the twist, it wasn’t worth the journey to get there. So I’m happy to report that though I could tell fairly clearly where Shadow of the Conqueror was going I don’t think having known about the few twists that caught me would have in any way dampened my enjoyment of the book.
With that said, significant story “spoilers” will begin in the next section. I don’t think you should stop reading now to avoid them, but if you’re someone who cares about that kind of thing, you have been forewarned.
To ease into it, let’s swing over to some speculation about how the book was written, or as I like to call it:
I mentioned above Ahrek’s humor and the Australian dialog flavor, but I found these aspects dropped off precipitously as the book went on. This makes me suspect that this book was written in reading order, that is, written starting at the beginning and continuing on until reaching the end. I haven’t done a survey or anything, but I get the distinct impression that this is how the vast majority of authors write, and not without reason. It affords a great deal of sentence-to-sentence continuity and momentum, as the author is thinking through the story in the same order as the reader.
But it also has a drawback, in that the author may begin with a particular stylistic element, but drift away from it as the narrative progresses. Thematically, this can be a problem, and lead to a lack of cohesion. But when it applies to in-world aspects such as dialect and character traits, this progressive drift is disastrous. This is why I write using progressively refined outlines, something like a fractal or a growing tree instead of rolling out a carpet.
I think this approach would be helpful to maintain large scale continuity over the whole work. To take the example of humor, I began to really miss Ahrek’s wisecracking, and when occasional references were made to it later in the book they felt a bit out of place. It’s true that the situations the characters were in became progressively more dire, but a bit of uncalled-for levity would have been welcome. Ahrek even declares a quarter of the way through that making Daylen laugh with joy is his new goal, but it doesn’t seem long at all before it is lost in the ongoing:
Because my goodness there is So Much Angst in this book! Daylen can hardly go three paragraphs without reminding us that he is continually internally writhing in agony over his former crimes. And he’s not the only one tormented by his past. Oh no! All four of the main characters are essentially defined by traumas they have experienced. They are all driven by their history, and what goals they do have for their lives and future are vague and unsatisfying.
Perhaps there’s a kind of intentional thematic structure beneath this pattern. Making all of the main characters driven by their past – Daylen to pay for it, Ahrek to forgive it, and Lyrah to rise above it – is a sound structural choice. But as it is Daylen’s past that Ahrek and Lyrah are struggling with, the narrative begins to feel a bit incestuous. It wouldn’t be quite so bad though, if only Daylen wasn’t such a light-forsaken:
What is a Marty Stu you may ask? It’s essentially an Over Powered character inserted into an existing world as a form of power fantasy, often by a fan-fiction author. That last part doesn’t fit, as Daylen is canon, but he needs to be nerfed five ways from Friday. Let’s take a look at Daylen’s many superior attributes:
- He’s an educated engineer who invented or improved, as far as I can tell, nearly all the in-world technology. He also personally invented or improved many weapons, including coming up with the “shooter” which is the in-world equivalent of the gun. This is the most realistic of his abilities, as many other people in the world know about this and take advantage of these discoveries, but still feels overpowered because there’s no reason given as to why no one else came up with these ideas before Daylen came along.
- He is an expert shipwright, and knows from a glance the capabilities of every vessel he sees, even if they are heavily modified in ways that would be impossible to perceive. Also, we’re told he “invented” the “Annihilator” which is just a super huge skyship. Really? “Let’s make a really big one!” is invention now? We’re told “It took a genius to design them in a way that they could still be maneuverable” but I don’t see anything genius about adding more maneuvering pods.
- He is an expert sky-ship pilot, able to perform feats which other pilots consider impossible.
- He posited, discovered, and learned to use an ancient Sun Forge (the Omniforge?) of imense power, which was hidden among his foes for ages, all while keeping it so secret that even twenty years later no one has any clue it exists at all.
- How did he use the Omniforge? Well, he’s also a super awesome Sun Smith. Not only is he “more than a master” at this insanely delicate and dangerous skill, but he has developed a new technique for sunforging which no one else has been able to replicate, even though the sunforging guild has explicitly been attempting to do so for decades, and it is publicly well known that it is possible to perform.
- He’s a darkstone architect who developed, designed, and constructed extensive sky-ship fortifications to keep skyships from landing wherever they want. And also designed “annihilators” to defeat such fortifications. And then also designed fortifications to defeat the Annihilators. As with annihilators, his stroke of brilliance was “make a really big one”.
- He also designed and built a new type of skyship dock. Decades later he is gratified when “It appeared that his designs were working perfectly.”
- He’s a world-class expert swordsman, both at fighting Shade, and at dueling, which are explicitly described as very different styles. Even though he didn’t practice for twenty years, his sword-fighting ability is still nearly un-matched in both styles.
- He is physically attractive, and several women mention his good looks.
- He’s a good husband and father, until his whole family is killed at least.
- He’s a war hero, who commanded such loyalty that he was able to overthrow multiple governments and conquer the majority of the known world.
- While we’re never shown it in the story, he styles himself as a brilliant tactician, able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with even the most meager resources.
- While ruling the world, he created many stockpiles of goods, food, and materiel which no one else knows about even decades later. These caches are in every major populated center, but no one knows about them. Well, technically they found one of them, out of the hundreds.
- Despite being opposed by half the world, and fighting insurrections within his own empire, Daylen only begins to lose battles when the in-world equivalent of the Super-friends decides to step in and oppose him.
- He accidentally discovers how to gain superpowers. His powers are explicitly and objectively superior to everyone else’s powers.
- When he gains the aforementioned magic powers, he is able – with no training – to suss out how the powers work, how to use them, and even develop new techniques which no one else has come up with even though these powers have been practiced for thousands of years.
- Also when he gains these superpowers he is “cursed” with renewed youth and vigor, so he has all the tempering experience of the old with all the power of the young.
- Even though he does many bad things, he almost never acts from selfish motives. He nearly always offers morally upright motivations for his actions.
- He is so empathetic and morally upright that he recognizes the evil things he has done over the course of his life on reflection alone, without anyone needing to convince him. When he has done so, and fully realizes his wickedness, he feels such guilt that he literally dies from grief.
- He’s an author, who writes an autobiography. This mostly bugs me because it feels like author insertion.
- Even in light of the drawbacks of his life, he has a grassroots fanclub/cult following which self-organizes into an effective terrorist organization motivated by the loftiest of his ideals.
- At one point he is looking across hilly land and sees a “farmstead in the far distance sitting within a valley beyond.” If it is sitting in the valley, it should be invisible from a distance. So, he can see around corners as well!
To give Shad credit, other characters in-world are constantly incredulous about his abilities. But even so, that’s a real long list of really exceptional traits. And what drawbacks does he have to counterbalance this preponderance of fortune? He loses his temper and has made some rather bad decisions. Oh, and I suppose technically he admits to being bad at cooking, singing, making friends, gardening, and poetry, but as none of these are demonstrated as being inconvenient for him in any way, that doesn’t seem to balance the books. Plus these shortcomings are never shown in the story, so I suspect Daylen is lying about being bad at them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s a wildly popular opera singing chef in the sequels who writes his own lyrics and grows his own ingredients.
Now, it’s certainly possible to have a character like this who is good at everything and pull it off. But to do that you need to employ proper:
I mentioned above that Shad shows very little confidence in the reader, and nowhere did I get this sense more keenly than in the realm of foreshadowing. It is very often entirely absent, as with Daylen’s varied and exceptional qualities. This gives the impression that the author is pulling things out of his butt, adding elements to the story for the convenience of the plot. If Daylen were, for example simply a competent swordsman, it might be believable that he had maintained his skills after twenty years of neglect. But for him to be a top-fifty super-master class duelist able to go toe-to-toe with the very best sword fighters, he should be practicing constantly and obsessively to keep his skills sharp. But no, he’s still a grand-master after twenty years of languishing.
It’s like this with all of his capabilities. We are told he is interested in piloting a sky ship again. From that I would expect him to posses basic competence, but when he gets to the helm he’s a flying ace, even correcting a sky-ship captain about the capabilities of his own vessel! We are told he likes tinkering with mechanical things, gears and cogs and such. From that I would expect him to have some basic design ability. But it turns out that he’s basically an omnidisciplinary scientist engineer craftsman, able to exceed the guild masters’ capabilities in their own disciplines! Despite being twenty or more years out of practice, he’s conveniently still an expert sunforge operator when the plot requires it, undertaking extremely delicate tasks without hesitation, or even a trial run. Despite his decades of remorse, he’s still a cold-hearted killer when convenient for the plot, and is conveniently struck with regret only after it is convenient to be so incapacitated. Daylen’s abilities aren’t the only thing that seems to jump out of nowhere. Ahrek’s true identity was a bit jarring when it was first revealed. Maybe I missed the clues on that one, but it felt a bit contrived.
So, I would say the story needs way more foreshadowing, except that there are occasional instances of the most heavy-handed anvilicious foreshadowing I have ever encountered. They all happen near the beginning of the book, regarding Daylen’s attempted suicide which gives him the Archknight powers of LightBinding. Daylen explicitly and repeatedly mentions that he’s never heard of anyone doing this before, because obviously it will kill him, and why would anything else happen? I can feel the viewpoint character mug to camera. I can almost see him smirking. He’s read the plot, and he wants us to know it.
There are a few miscellaneous problems which I’m going to mention here because I don’t have anywhere better to put them:
- After Daylen’s conversation with Lyrah, we’re told “Daylen hadn’t eaten anything.” yet he’s clearly described as eating during the conversation.
- Daylen uses some of his magic powers to whisper directly to a number of other people, which he describes as “sending direct messages”. In addition to the offensive anachronism, it seems like he would just say “light-bind whispering” or something else similarly descriptive.
- Daylen describes destroying a rebel city as “genocidal” when the attack wasn’t predicated on race.
So, I don’t really want more foreshadowing, or less. I just want it to be better. And to be fair, it’s done well in many instances. Ahrek’s assignment in particular really impressed me. I also liked how Daylen gets distracted from his certificate quest, and then pays for it later when he’s wasted too much time. The Dawnists, Lyrah’s traumatic past, and probably a dozen other examples were executed well enough that they felt appropriate. But like the problems with “Show, Don’t Tell”, the foreshadowing errors are all that much more vexing for being inconsistencies against a background of general competence.
There is a possibility that I haven’t addressed yet. Perhaps these literary “errors” were put in place intentionally so we would:
The primary viewpoint character is portrayed as a monster from page one. He is overpowered and everything seems to go right for him. He’s clearly supposed to be a deplorable catastrophe of a human being. The problem with this is he’s just too sympathetic!
Maybe this is just a problem with me, but I saw a lot of myself in Daylen. Having attempted to come to terms with my psychological shadow, his story feels familiar. If I was given the power, I too would probably try to kill my enemies. If offered the opportunity, I wouldn’t put it past myself to accumulate a harem. What man hasn’t fantasized about ruling the world? If betrayed, who wouldn’t retaliate?
The main thing I found frankly despicable about Daylen is his constant “grief” over his past. The majority of his actions seem to be undertaken with sound motives, or at least understandable provocation, and he only seems to feel bad about them because they would be offensive to a modern reading audience. Everfall is a very different place from Real Life Earth – I’ll get into that below – and thus has a very different historical and religious background. It’s possible – inevitable really, but I’ll go into that too – that there is an absolute objective moral framework that the characters in SotC are referring to, but as I do not have access to it, I am falling back to the moral framework I share with the author. Given that common Judeo-Christian morality, there are a lot of “crimes” that Daylen commits which seem not only defensible but positively unimpeachable. Let’s review these instances first:
- Daylen has a hot temper and is kind of a jerk. But this is basically just means his personality is low in Agreeableness. Our modern culture likes to think of high agreeableness as a virtue, and insulting people as an unpardonable hate crime, but that’s more a result of widespread feminism than upright moral instinct. There’s nothing wrong with being disagreeable, and the martial culture of Everfall would naturally tend to over-emphasize it rather than demonize it.
- He kills his own parents, but only after they had literally turned into irredeemable monsters called Shades. In our world this would be patricide, but it’s justified in Everfall. Neither he nor anyone else would see it as evil. Perhaps he would still weep about it, but with sadness and not bitterness.
- He overthrows the government and “murders” the entire aristocracy of his nation (with extensive help) but only after they had oppressed and starved the people and literally ordered a massacre in which his wife and young children were killed. Many of the people in-world still look kindly on him for this rebellion, and he at least felt personally justified by it at the time.
- He conquers several of the neighboring nations, but only after they attack his nation in an attempt to overthrow his new government.
- After he conquers these neighbors, he kills all of the nobles. This seems brutal to us, but was a common historical practice, especially before the advent of widespread Christianity. As the people of Everfall explicitly have many different religions, and adhere to some kind of hereditary monarchy (the details are never explained) this purge should strike them, and Daylen by extension, as neither extreme nor unwarranted.
- During his rule, Daylen charged and executed many people for treason when they annoyed him. This may seem tyrannical to us, but if you annoy the despot, you get what’s coming to you. It’s not like such behavior was out of the ordinary. See the above massacre where Daylen’s family was killed.
- Likewise, Daylen “severely” punishes anyone who “spoke out against” him. I’m strongly opposed to complaining myself, so we’re almost on the same team on this one. In any case, this “crime” is much more offensive to an audience of United States citizens with our expectation of free speech as a moral right than it seems likely to have been for the people of Everfall. As above mentioned, I don’t have access to their “Inner Light” so maybe free speech is an obvious and absolute good in that setting. Jordan Peterson seems to argue it’s an absolute good in our universe as well. What isn’t absolute is the historical consistency of this belief, so I find it easy to excuse Daylen’s actions in this instance, especially given the dearth of in-story evidence that this is as bad as everyone in-world seems to think.
- Daylen admits to resorting to prostitutes, and “bribing” young women into his harem. While it seems unreasonable to suppose that he had to pay for sex, being a powerful successful war hero tyrant-deposing badass despot… okay. We’ll grant it as part of the story. But neither modern culture nor ancient place a particular emphasis on male chastity, and female prostitution has been both widespread and morally admissible nearly everywhere and at all times. It is only where religion prohibits it that visiting prostitutes is seen as a moral evil, and we know from the narrative that there is a whole in-world denomination of Matriology whose temples are basically brothels. So I find it difficult to imagine what twisted chain of reasoning brought Daylen to berate himself for this particular “failing” either.
- Along the same lines, Daylen berates himself for taking “girls” as young as 14 years old into his harem. As this is explicitly the legal age of marriage in-world, and a not uncommon marriage age even today in many parts of the real world, I’m hard pressed to condemn him on this account. Especially given the need to re-people the world after the massive die-off that must have happened during the Fourth Night, young marriages just don’t seem like a problem to me.
- During the “Empire wars” Daylen attacks several of his allies, but only after they refuse to assist him and actively support his enemies.
- He levels the city of Daybreak with “everyone inside”, but only after they openly rebel against the government in the middle of a war. He “murders” everyone in the city, but anyone who wanted to get out had plenty of time to do so while the four super-battleships required to overwhelm the city defenses were in transit from the front lines. This open rebellion in the middle of an active conflict, with apparently no support from the opposing forces, and no plan beyond yelling “screw you!” at the extremely well-armed military regime, and then just sitting around in the city to wait until the siege ships that you helped to construct show up to burn your house down around you is a collective act of such startling stupidity that it hardly even rises to the level of suicide by police officer. That “over a million men, women, and children” would blithely invite death in such a manner is in no way Daylen’s problem. Don’t blame the king when you nominate yourself for the Darwin Awards. In any case, Daylen shouldn’t blame himself for this either. As a side note, it’s not clear why the Arch-Knights chose this as the last straw to declare war on the Dawn Empire. If the Great Betrayal wasn’t reason enough, I don’t see why the Great Bunch of Dopes Burn their Own City Down Around Them was a bridge too far.
- One of Daylen’s advisers attacks him without warning, and continues the assault even when wounded and given the opportunity to flee. Daylen wins the fight, and then feels bad about “murdering” him. Killing in self defense against an implacable foe who suddenly betrays you is completely justified, and is in no way “murder”.
Then there are some things that I’m on the fence about. The below are certainly counterproductive, and probably evil all told, but I’m not convinced they merit an international trial:
- He claims to have executed all captured soldiers after each battle. I wonder, did this includes those who surrendered? In any case, it’s not really as evil as he seems to think. After the first couple battles, I doubt anyone would let themselves get captured anyway. Encouraging your foes to fight to the last is kind of stupid, but it’s not exactly evil. He even mentions that food is still scarce at this point. Seems more humane to execute captives than let them starve. As with many of the other in this category, it depends on the details that we aren’t privy to.
- He institutes state ownership of all property. No one seems to have starved to death from this though, or been turned out of their homes. They had just recently been through 15 “years” of darkness, during which the Shade had killed countless people, so the impression I got was that there was plenty of property to go around. Several people in the story mention that everyone had enough to eat, despite these policies. Daylen feels super guilty about this and even gives a little speech about the problems with state-run government near the end of chapter forty, but at the end of the day I’d say desperate times call for desperate measures, and there’s no question the times after the Fourth Night would have been mighty desperate.
- Similarly, later in his reign he assigns individuals based on demonstrated competence instead of letting the guilds regulate the craftsmen. While I feel like this is inefficient and counterproductive, it’s hardly the mark of a heartless tyrant. Or, if it is, our own government goes to similar pains to ensure people are doing the jobs that the empire needs.
- Queen Quallandra sleeps with Daylen, hoping for marriage and an alliance which Daylen apparently “promised” and then backs out of and blackmails her. While it would have been sensible for Quallandra to keep her lips dry until he put a ring on it, the betrayal was still a pretty low act. Sexual manipulation is firmly in women’s wheelhouse though, so the fact that Quallandra couldn’t pull it off seems her problem, even if she “did it for the sake of her kingdom.” End of the day, it comes down to how strong Daylen’s “promise” was. Since they clearly didn’t actually get married for real, I’d say it wasn’t enough for him to condemn himself for later, and certainly not for anyone else to convict him.
- Any woman Daylen dismissed from his harem was executed if she tried to re-join him. This seems pretty bad, but people in power can’t mess around with security, and Daylen had already endured assassination attempts. The story isn’t explicit about how clearly the instruction of “leave me and never return” was, but given the consistent policy, this doesn’t seem like evil so much as harsh.
- Daylen also berates himself for depriving members of his harem of clothing, giving them only jewelry “like the outfits of some Tuerasian woman”. This, again, would be humiliating for some people in our culture (though not all I suppose), but as it is a recognized Tuerasian practice to dress this way, it hardly seems objectively immoral in-world. Forcing people to do things that they don’t want to isn’t necessarily evil. As this comes down to the underlying morality of differing standards of modesty, I’m willing to set this particular charge aside, especially as it stands in relation to Daylen’s more heinous harem policies which I address below.
- Executing wives and children of troublesome guild leaders. These people were openly defying the authorities, but were too “valuable” for their skills to kill directly? Daylen pays for his lack of foresight, as just such an indirect execution motivated his nemesis. Though I would credit the Great Betrayal as the actual cause of his downfall. In a world where food is in short supply, it kind of feels more merciful to make a widower than a widow and/or a bunch of orphans. This seems really close to the objectively evil category, until I recall that these guild leaders are openly defying a violent military despot. Not a smart move. As with executing prisoners and lovers who can’t take a hint, I’m willing to file this under “Harsh, but fair.”
In contrast, there are a few times where his acts seem like they deserve all the in-world ire that they get. These include:
- The Great Betrayal, where Daylen attacks the Lourane Empire without provocation or declaration of war. His excuse is that they “were growing too powerful” and I agree it’s a lame one. That was a bad move both strategically and morally, and it’s good that he regrets it.
- Daylen’s Harem Admission Plan. Aside from The Great Betrayal, this is the only other really major moral failing that I feel Daylen is guilty of. In short, Daylen acquired some fraction of the women for his harem under threat of violence, tried to prevent them from having children (though this didn’t always work, which seems odd, there are sure ways to go about this, especially if he “never did anything by half measures”), and then refused to see them again if he felt they were becoming “attached” to him. For good measure, I’m willing to admit the unspecified “depraved acts” in this category as well. That’s a pretty major series of offenses, and he can feel as sorry for it as he likes. Though, even here, it bears noting that since they were well taken care of, these young women look more like unwilling concubines than rape victims to me. Just because the book’s modern audience doesn’t acknowledge the distinction doesn’t mean it’s not there. The difference is profound, and would certainly have appeared so to the Night haunted, famine ridden population of Everfall.
- Apparently some of the young women completely lost their minds from the ordeals they encountered in Daylen’s harem, which, I guess that can happen? It happens in Everfall at least. Daylen executed these “mindless” young women and justified it as “mercy” but it looks more like a sick form of PR damage control to me. So, chock that one up as a mortal sin as well.
- Daylen mentions he was trying to conquer everyone in order to combine their forces so he could eradicate the Shade. This seems egotistical to me. Certainly, if he wanted to destroy the Shade, he could have just started doing that, and people could have helped if they wanted to. “Before I do this good thing to help everyone I must first rule the world and have everyone’s help!” is, just about the most narcissistic thing you can say. To top it off, When Daylen was defeated, he swore revenge, promising to kill everyone. So, he’s the worst sore loser in Everfall. “If I can’t win, I won’t play at all. I hate all of you! I wish you were dead!” So immature and petty. At least accept defeat with some modicum of decency. It flies in the face of some of the other motivations mentioned, but I think it’s still bad enough to put on the “naughty” list.
On top of that, Daylen does a few things that seem pretty despicable to me, but which no one in-world seems to mind at all. I’d be glad to see Daylen feeling more guilty than he apparently does about:
- Failing to employ his OP abilities to create engineering, SunForging, and architectural marvels. Just because he can’t get credit for it doesn’t mean he should stop employing his insane amazing savant-tier skills. If he truly was trying to make the world a better place, he would keep working at what he’s best at instead of sitting around plotting revenge and/or being an epic mope.
- Failing to share the secrets of advanced Sunforging that he discovered. He justifies keeping the secrets by saying it would do more harm than good, but someone else is bound to discover these things at some point. By divulging the secrets, he could make sure everyone was on an even footing. There’s no guarantee the next person who discovers them would be so scrupulous. This goes double for the Omniforge, which is hidden in the middle of a bunch of outlaws, bandits, cut-throats, and thugs. What happens if they discover it? Nothing good I’ll wager.
- Failing to disclose the location of the Imperial Reserve, a huge stockpile of ships and materiel that he apparently kept hidden because… reasons? Why not give these back to the nations he wronged? It wouldn’t repair the damage he did, but some restitution would be better than nothing!
- Pleading “guilty” to crimes he didn’t commit. It doesn’t help anyone, and seems to only serve to inflate his already overblown sense of false guilt.
So, all told, Daylen has done some pretty deplorable things, and I agree he should be put to death for his crimes to satisfy the demands of the law. But I also think he gets a lot more blame than he deserves. At the end of the day I find it hard to hate him, especially since I too struggle with betrayal and sexual misbehavior. At least Daylen isn’t a coward on top of all that, which is more than I can say for myself.
A few more minor character quibbles. Daylen’s relationship with suicide feels rather odd. He wants to die, but doesn’t kill himself. He attempts a rather elaborate suicide, and then is concerned that he is falling to his death when it doesn’t work like he expected. He repeatedly defends his own life, but then when many lives may hinge on his intervention he decides to take part in a dual to the death. Some places he tells us that The Light “obligates” him to try to survive. Other places he attributes it to stubbornness. The constant bemoaning of the cruel fate of being forced to live with the guilt of his past by getting restored youth and super powers feels like the “cursed with awesome” trope. We are shown a few times where he is incapacitated by grief, and the story shines in these moments. But even then it seems that Daylen attempting to take his own life at these times would be in keeping with his oft-bemoaned despair. Yet he never seems seriously tempted to do so, aside from the one failed attempt at the start.
So that’s it for my insights on the main character’s moral standing. He certainly seems to be an antihero of the Byronic flavor, and I mostly wish the notes were a bit more refined. Distilled remorseful super-villain is a vintage rarely attempted, and if Shad failed in this instance, at least he failed at a truly tricky task.
From here, I’d like to broaden the scope of my observations and close out this essay by examining:
The Setting of Everfall
Starting with the events in this book, it seems weird to have an entrenched aristocracy immediately after such a calamity as the Fourth Night. With a significant portion of the populace dead, it seems like there would be a bit more shake-up than the narrative hints at. I’m no scholar of the events in Europe following the Black Plague, but that’s where I’d look for guidance on the state of society.
Speaking of the Fourth Night, it’s mentioned that it lasted 15 Years. But the only mention of chronological measurement is the position of the Plummet, which is the equivalent to Earth days. Are there seasons? Because no seasons are mentioned (except “winter” once). And, if there aren’t seasons, why are there fire places for warmth? Because the first chapter explicitly mentions fireplaces are used for “cooking and warmth” but if the sun never sets why would it get cold?
And that brings us to the two huge differences… No, three. No, four! Five? Five huge differences between the real world and Everfall (the setting of Shadow of the Conqueror). There’s darkstone, and the world wraps vertically, and the sun never moves, and if you’re in the dark too long you turn into a Shade (think ring wraith + zombie), and there is a whole light-based magic/superpower system. Any one of these differences would have far-reaching effects on biology, geography, climate, flora and fauna, and did I mention that when it gets dark the night lasts FIFTEEN YEARS? Six huge differences! Oh, and what about dragons? (Seven things?)
Now, again, to give him credit, Shad has done at least a solid first pass at working through the implications of these divergences from real life. It’s just that, there seems to be a lot left out. With all the details and implications that ARE explicitly stated in the book, I get the impression that the omissions aren’t things Shad is holding back so much as things he hasn’t thought of. In any case, I’m going to go over these one by one, and try to work through all the implications I see. I’ll try to give the book credit where it nods at these aspects, and a lot of room is left to the reader’s imagination, but, well, here we go.
The foundational difference between our world and Everfall is that Everfall has an absolute reference frame. General and Special Relativity need not apply. We aren’t given any details about how the speed of light is handled in this setting, but what we are given a lot of detail about is:
The bedrock of all the land in everfall, darkstone is a solid rock-like material which is locked in place relative to the world’s reference frame when in darkness, and is repulsed by light. The Everfallians use these features to enable a variety of constructions, and power nearly all their vehicles.
The amount of light required to unlock a darkstone from immobility is the “Luminous threshold” and equals M * D * L ^2. Or maybe M*(D*L)^2? Or (MDL)^2? The formula is spoken, so which components are squared isn’t exactly clear. In any case, the relationship of the amount of force required to move the object and the amount of light shining on it isn’t clear either. It also seems, from descriptions given while setting up a ship for towing, that “longitude and latitude” play into it, but Daylen gave an exaggerated and falsified description before this, so I suspect the longitude and latitude stuff is made up as well. It is mentioned that darkstone can be unlocked on only one axis, while being locked on the others. Perhaps there is a universal Cartesian reference frame? That would explain the longitude and latitude reference. Hmm.
It’s also not clear how the light repulsion can cause rotation. One would think that spinning out of control would result from even the slightest light imbalance, but the repulsion seems to only create translation, and never rotation. Of course, skyships are described as angling, so perhaps there are control darkstones near the ends of the ship to act as moment arms? They also usually have single large blocks as a core, while the mass squared relationship would seem to favor many small cores instead. Without the specifics of the physics involved, it’s very difficult to speculate further.
As a side-note, “skyships” are treated much like the conventional marine ships we are used to, with dedicated “docks” where they land. Sadly, this is utter and complete nonsense. A skyship is a VTOL aircraft with zero fuel cost for hovering and zero engine wash. You can literally park them anywhere! You don’t need ports or docks or runways or anything! Each warehouse and market, and any residence that could afford it, would have a dark-stone elevator for conveniently loading and embarking skyships. Those too poor for darkstone elevators would have at least a platform on the roof with a plank or two, or simply a clearing on the lawn. Plus vessels would have built-in cranes to load and unload. The idea of central “skyship docks” is so monumentally stupid that I’m baffled how a bright fellow like Shad entertained it long enough to write it down, let alone have his main character congratulate himself on designing a “better” version of this extravagantly wasteful and pointless structure.
Interestingly, darkstones are described as having infinite resistance to motion while in darkness. Sufficient force will pulverized it before causing it to move. The pulverization brings up another interesting issue with very small darkstone particles, which should be locked in place in darkness. If there were any darkstone dust flying about in the air, and you inhaled it, and moved, it would rip holes right through you! Since there must be some dust flying around (due to the world wrapping vertically) and people’s sinuses aren’t getting torn out all the time, we must assume there’s a lower size threshold below which darkstone will not lock in place, no matter how dark it gets. Alternately, perhaps the magical “inner light” that people seem to have is sufficient to unlock dust-sized darkstone motes.
If small particles of darkstone do provide some anchoring capacity (or if contact-amalgamation works as speculated below), one would expect plants to take advantage of it – much like the skyscraper designers already do in the book – in order to increase their height. Woody structure is costly to grow, so if plants could incorporate darkstone to serve the same end, it seems likely that they would. This would be a good excuse for putting colossal plants, trees, and brambles in the setting which would otherwise collapse under their own weight.
This notion of a smallest lockable darkstone element seems to be supported by the fact that they don’t just mix darkstone aggregate into the mortar of their masonry. Building reinforcement is done with darkstone foundation blocks. But daggers are still big enough to lock in place, as we learn from Daylen’s spring-loaded darkstone dagger. Which, by the way, should have locked in place when he was attacked by Shades at Blackheart’s hideout. Instead he is able to run around while wearing it, and then throw it aside. Minor plot hole there? Oh well. Maybe the sunforged gauntlet it was in provides enough light to keep it unlocked.
Anyway, there is mention of magnifying lenses used to increase the intensity of the light, and thereby the “luminous repulsion”, so we know the Everfallians understand optics. We also hear of mirrors, so they should be able to make magnifying reflectors. This will become important in the section after next.
So SotC has huge buildings reinforced by immobile entombed darkstone, and “skysitters” that hang in the air. There are “wagons” and skyships whose motive power comes from light from Sunstones shining on darkstone.
Wait, have I mentioned Sunstone yet? (Eight things!) It’s a round stone that emits light. Where they come from isn’t explored. The closest we get is a brief description of “natural sunstone growths” helping to illuminate a cave. We also know they can be exhausted over time, but not how long it takes for them to run out. Touching a large enough sunstone to a darkstone unlocks its motion as well, which is a pretty handy quirk. Anyway, the skyships use giant sunstones to illuminate their darkstone “core” and cause it to move. A smaller scale version of this principle are shotspikes, self-propelled bullets shot from a gun-like weapon. Or, maybe they are more like rockets? Micro-missiles? Anyway, there are larger ones called “warheads” but they all work on the same principle. The weapon must have some sort of illuminated chamber inside to keep the darkstone flechettes unlocked so the weapon can be transported and aimed. An opaque sleeve fit over a darkstone splinter should be sufficient to fire it, though aiming might be difficult depending on how/if absolute cartesian axis locks work.
What else could we do with this tech? Elevators? Yep, the book already has them. That’s all sensible, and felt good to hear that Shad had got there before me. Personal flying harnesses? There is one class of artifacts called “Skimmers”, but they are basically just handles with a little darkstone propulsion unit attached. You can supposedly “skim through the air to wherever you needed to go” but we see them used so rarely that I feel the possibilities are insufficiently explored. Darkstone powered “jetpacks” man! Come on!
We hear precious little about the fauna of Everfall so while it isn’t mentioned in SotC, it seems animals would benefit from incorporating darkstone into their biology. Roosting in mid-air, running on darkstone hooves, and birds with the ability to perform darkstone powered dives from the sun leap to mind. There are probably more. How about a tortoise that can anchor itself in place so predators can’t turn it on its back? Or a mid-air mollusk? Ooh! Or a jellyfish with long filaments of darkstone spines, anchored lethally in position and waiting for an unwitting sky-whale to shred itself to ribbons? Primates tend to develop tools, right? What about a troupe of sky-brachiating chimpanzees? Should be easy with a sunstone and a darkstone in each paw. Terrifying.
Speaking of terrifying, another application which seems obvious but isn’t described in SotC is hanging darkstone bead barriers. Make the beads the right size to be unlocked in normal interior illumination, so people can pass through them freely. But when the Shade show up and suck all the light out, the beads lock in place making an impassible barrier. Of course, the Shade live in the Underworld, which must be at least partially composed of Darkstone, so maybe Light Blaring (still hate it) can affect Darkstone in ways that haven’t been described yet? A darkstone portcullis could work in a similar way, though, and you wouldn’t need a windlass to raise it.
Another common application for darkstone (depending on how expensive it is) would be adjustable furniture. A wooden frame built around the darkstone would suffice to lock it in place. Easy unlocking could be facilitated by a dark opaque fluid of some sort, oil, soot-blackened water, or the like. An appropriate sized sunstone could be pressed through the fluid, which would prevent the light pressure from dislodging it, but still allow the bead to contact the darkstone, which, as mentioned above, is established to unlock the motion of darkstone. A darkstone chair would be easy to store when not in use (just lock it up above head height), and easy to clean under even when it was in use. All the descriptions of the furniture appear to assume conventional construction, however. Perhaps darkstone is too expensive a material to use in common furniture.
The cost of darkstone is never touched on either, nor how difficult it is to acquire. Sunucles (still hate it) shatter when they touch darkstone, so you’d need to use conventional tools to mine and shape it. Perhaps it is a relatively soft mineral, which would explain why you would need larger pieces to exert larger forces. Can two smaller pieces of darkstone be fused into one larger one? Do touching pieces of darkstone act as one larger piece? What happens if darkstone is fractured, but still mechanically linked? Most naturally occurring minerals are full of cracks, and even metals are composed of many separate crystalline cells, so it seems likely that darkstone’s magical properties can unite multiple small pieces into a functional larger unit. Casting darkstone might be as simple as pulverizing it to sand, and then pouring the sand into a mold? This contact-amalgamation would be an interesting mechanic, as it would allow plants and animals to easily create their own internal darkstone organs. If it needs to be molten, what is the melting temperature of darkstone? What are the properties of liquid darkstone? Since it “sucks up” light, it seems unlikely to incandesce. But as none of these topics are covered in the book, and the details that are given are not always intuitive, I’m going to cease speculation here.
Before moving on, there are knock-on effects for nearly all of these world changes, which cascade into other further effects. To name just one of many, the ease of flight which darkstone allows would tend to drive all fortifications underground, much like modern bunkers. I’m trying to not get lost in these details, but given the fractal nature of any significant divergence from conventional reality, I think Darkstone by itself would have ample ramifications to justify an entire setting. But this fascinating material is just the first of many major differences between our world and Everfall. The setting itself derives it’s name from the next which I’ll examine which is:
The world of Everfall wraps vertically, with The Barrier essentially teleporting anything that falls out the bottom of the world back in at the top. The Barrier has some resistance, which keeps the air from accelerating without limit. It’s fairly well thought through! Air is much more sparse at the “top” of the world (just below The Barrier), and much denser at the “bottom” (just above The Barrier). Light, too, is wrapped through The Barrier, so you can see through it clearly for a great distance. We are told that “a man could fall at most around two hundred kilometers an hour” and that it takes objects 24 hours to fall from top to bottom. Of course the speed would vary based on density and form factor, but this gives us a rough world “height” of 5000 km. Before examining the details, I’d like to say I was rather hoping for a non-rectilinear wrapping, so falling off one part would warp you back up over someplace else. But no, the world just scrolls vertically in the most boring way possible. It’s not the first missed opportunity, and it certainly won’t be the last.
I was skeptical of the map of Tellos and the Lands Above in the front of the book. It was offered as an in-world chart, and is quite detailed. How were they able, without the aid of modern surveying and satellite imagery, to create such a complete and detailed map? Turns out it’s not hard at all when you can just look up to see the outline, and look down from the edge to see it all laid out like a plan. Consider that objection well answered.
“So where does all the heat go?” I hear you asking. I was wondering that too. The drop in temperature of the air when it passes through The Barrier must be more than just an ideal gas law effect to remove the heat from the sun and keep the world in thermodynamic balance. Otherwise the heat would keep accumulating. If there are seasons in Everfall, they could easily be explained by the amount of thermal energy that The Barrier removes from the air fluctuating over time in a predictable manner. Although, we are told that “times and seasons” are both measured by the Plummet, which I examine below. Staying on the Barrier for present, if the energy removed is per volume or per second instead of per mass, that would explain why Daylen didn’t suddenly develop hypothermia when he passed through. Or maybe he’s just special in that way as well.
Okay, so the air gets much colder when it wraps around to the top of the world. What about the water? We’re told of fogs and clouds, so there’s enough water in the atmosphere to condense out. The book even alludes to compressive heating being the reason why there are no clouds “so far down” near the Barrier, but this line of reasoning doesn’t seem to be well thought through. The reason we have scattered clouds on earth is because local convection forces wet air up high enough that it gets cold and forms tiny water droplets. But there’s no local convection in the massive void of air, and the air is all falling, not rising!
The underside of The Barrier should be one solid blanket of cloud from all the condensed water droplets, just like a lenticular cloud over a mountain-top. The solid layer of cloud would fade to clear once the air descended and heated enough, and no further cloud formation would be possible all the way down to The Barrier itself (With a possible exception in the low-pressure zone in the wake of the continent). Yet The Barrier is described as being invisible, with clouds floating sparsely in the airy expanse of the sky. This issue of cloud formation is the only major technical descriptive problem I’ve found in the book, but I don’t see any easy way to fix it.
Unless you just wave your hand and say “Psychrometrics works differently in Everfall.” which, sure, that would have worked. Except the “Tell instead of show” problem strikes again! Instead of just showing us sparse clouds and a transparent barrier, we are explicitly told that compressive heating prevents cloud formation just above the Barrier!
Daylen knew he had to be close; the air pressure and temperature were far greater now.From Chapter Three of Shadow of the Conqueror by Shad M. Brooks
The Barrier gave a level of resistance to things passing through, like molasses being pushed through a sieve. This made the air thicken at the bottom of the world, and temperature much warmer, as gravity pushed it through and made the air at the top very thin and cold, which created a pressure and temperature differential according to altitude.
If Shad just kept his over-narrating in check we could handwave this all away! But no! He just had to tell us that the ideal gas law applies in Everfall! It seems unthinkable that something as insubstatial as Clouds could cause the biggest plot-hole in SotC. And yet, here we are. It’s possible that Daylen is as ignorant about this as we are, and that there are some sort of large-scale magical energy transfers happening all over the place that cause the clouds and weather we see in the books, but at this point I feel that would be actively working against Shad’s efforts to describe the world.
Okay, setting clouds aside, one would expect humidity to be very evenly distributed across the continent. On Earth, the troposphere (the primary water-bearing portion of the atmosphere) is quite thin, only 10-20 km thick, and the world rotates, so weather is shaped by mountain ranges, seas, and the Coriolis effect. But in Everfall, the world wrapping and constant circulation would mean that the whole 5000 km deep would carry moisture, and weather would be determined primarily by the turbulent flow over the continent. How rain would form at all is an open question, as the air would be getting constantly warmer as it descends and compresses (see above). As with all other aspects of a fantasy world, “because magic” is always an open recourse. Still, the multitude of rivers seem to indicate that deserts are non-existent on Tellos, as we would expect. Though this is contradicted by the mention of a need for irrigation, which could be necessary in the rain shadow of Azbanadar and Orden, though their height would probably allow any moisture that they intercept to diffuse fairly evenly.
But what about all the dust? There are four oceans which empty out over the edge of the world, along with countless rivers. While the water might evaporate, the silt, dust, pebbles, and fish certainly would not. One would expect a constant fine rain of stone and coral in these areas, and a rain of dust across the whole continent as the particles are dispersed with the wind. Without a geological process to fuse the wasted rock back together, the geology of Everfall would soon devolve to drifts of stone dust. That could be cool! But we hear very little about the details of the Everfallian geology. Another open question.
In our world, organic detritus accumulates as abyssal ooze on the ocean floors, where it is subducted and metamorphosed into new rock, but in Everfall, the best one might expect is an occasional sticky rain of organic slime. Fertilizing wouldn’t be a problem anyway. So, now we have a continent sized slab of stone coated in a thick layer of clay-like slime, and dusted with fatal specks of immobile darkstone. Not exactly the vaguely terrestrial landscape which seems to present itself in SotC.
With all this moisture and dust in the air, haze would be a major problem. On an exceptionally clear day, and at high altitude, you can see through earth’s atmosphere for maybe 350 km before the haze blurs out and obscures all details. That’s easily an order of magnitude less distance than the world height in Everfall, and as I’ve already established the conditions would never be very clear. Constant dust-storm would be closer to the visibility I would imagine. And yet we are told repeatedly that the world-wrapped image of the continent is clearly visible.
Turbulent vorticies aside (which would be significantly muted if The Barrier has a static and uniform resistance as seems to be the case), the air flow over the continent would be constant. In fact, given the immense depth of the atmosphere, one would expect them to be of more than hurricane force. Perhaps gravity is less? Or has different effects on air than it does on solids? Or the absolute reference frame imposes non-newtonian drag on all substances in motion (another place for the heat to go).
I like that last theory the best, as absolute motion drag would also explain why the armies of Tellos haven’t developed kinetic energy weapons. Without drag, a steel spear dropped off the side of the continent would accelerate to meteoric speeds, and all you’d need to do to aim it is point some mirrors at darkstone actuated fins. Or just drop huge boulders from skyships. The fact that this isn’t done seems to indicate that continuous drag of some kind exists over and above what one would expect from air resistance. This might be hinted at when Daylen recollects that “a man could fall at most around two hundred kilometers an hour” which, on earth, is relative to air speed (Everfall air would be falling downward, increasing the maximum absolute speed) and at sea level (the vast depth differences would result in drastic pressure differences as well, leading to very different terminal velocities) and in the belly-down-spread position (nearly 300 kph for head down, or more if you’re wearing a streamlined suit). So even if Daylen is in a stable skydiving position, we would expect the air around him to carry him at much more than 200 kph unless other factors come into play. Could there be some form of Aetherial drag in Everfall?
Sadly, as with cloud formation, this fan-fix is also sabotaged by in-story exposition. We are explicitly told that Daylen’s terminal velocity increases dramatically with his increased mass. A minor conundrum. But if there’s no absolute frame drag, why aren’t there kinetic energy weapons? The Arch Knights, at least, could use them to terrifying effect! It would be the perfect kamikaze weapon as well, which you would have thought Mr. Daylen “I’m so brilliant that I invent all the cool stuff but also evil enough to send my troops to certain death” Namaran would have been all to happy to employ. Honestly, I thought that’s what the “annihilators” were until it turned out they were just big huge stupid dissapointing skyships like any three year old could come up with.
The book does describe the airflow spreading out over the continent as we would expect, wind blowing outward at the edges as it flows over. If the wind currents are constant and strong enough, one might expect kite-like vines to develop, held aloft by dynamic sail lift rather than static trunks or stalks. As far as technology goes, windmills seem an obvious option. Large birds might also be common in these areas, especially since they don’t have to develop the lift to gain altitude. With the constant winds, takeoff could be as easy as spreading their wings.
Moving away from the continent, we enter the region of eternal free-fall. Here SotC describes huge sky-diving pointy manta-rays called “skywhales” (which implies that there are also marine whales in Everfall?) but these are barely mentioned, so we don’t have much of an idea how common they are, what they eat, or if they occasionally “beach” like normal wales only instead of dying on the sand they pancake at just under the speed of sound and crater a square kilometer of countryside (why aren’t these used as weapons?).
Since skywhales live in the air, we must suppose there is some form of aerial plant life at the base of the food chain, perhaps sweeping the skies clean of debris and absorbing whatever gasses are used in transpiration where the air is thick just above the Barrier. If the air is thick enough – oh, and here’s another gripe, just before Daylen passes through the Barrier, he is described as feeling like his whole body was in a vise and having difficulty breathing. This is not what high pressure feels like! You go SCUBA diving and at four atmospheres it doesn’t feel any different! As to breathing difficulty, just, no. If anything, he should feel all narced out from nitrogen narcosis (it’s a SCUBA thing, look it up), and then die from the bends (another SCUBA thing) when he passes through the Barrier. Or, you know, his lungs and sinuses exploding. Take your pick. Where were we? Oh, right, if the air is thick enough – then plants might be able to have enough buoyancy to float just above the Barrier and take advantage of the thick atmosphere. The clarity of the air seems to counter-indicate this theory, but it’s nonsense one way or another.
Out in the freefall zone, we also encounter the Plummet. It’s an object described as a “large misshaped landmass” (by the way, “misshapen” scans better) which falls with such regularity that the people of Tellos use it in place of a day-night cycle. Predictably, I have a couple of gripes about the Plummet.
The first has to do with the description of the Plummet being “A kilometer north of the continent”. This seems awfully close! Does the Plummet have a darkstone core to keep it from drifting away, or worse, crashing into the plate of the continent itself? Is there some reason there is only one Plummet? Seems like there would be quite a few scattered around the edges. How large is the Plummet? If everyone on Tellos uses it as a clock, it needs to be easily visible from 6000 km away. It’s clearly meant as a stand-in for the sun or moon, and both have about a half degree of subtended arc. To get the same apparent size in the sky from 6000 km distance, the Plummet would need to be around 60 km across. And it’s only a kilometer away from the edge? Something seems off there. If any parts are loose, there would be a trail of debris entrained in the slipstream, some of which would pose a danger to any stationary objects nearby. Also, it should show up on the map.
Another oddity is that people measure their “times and seasons” by it. Honestly, I think this is Shad thoughtlessly lifting a phrase from Genesis 1, where the heavenly bodies are “given for times and seasons” but that brings me nicely to the other problem I have with the Plummet is its aforementioned use as a stand-in for the day-night cycle which I guess I’ll examine now because unlike in the real world:
The Sun in Everfall Doesn’t Move
Yes, that’s right, the sun just sits there, shining in the same direction, or from the same location, all the time. So where, exactly, is the sun sitting in the sky? We are shown from the included map that the continent is about 5500 km East to West, and around 6000 km North to South. We are also told that the Southern portion of the world is in constant shadow from the layer above. Using our estimate of 5000 km for the world height, and the location of The Shadowlands shown from the map, we get a rough angle of 45 degrees elevation. The second map shows the smaller continents above the main sheet of land, and from their shadows positions we can tell that the sun is a few degrees to the East of due North. Also of interest, it appears the southern portion of Orden would be in the continent’s shadow, or at least its penumbra.
This “sun never moves” thing raises several major difficulties. One is that of climate and weather. I’ve already mentioned that the non-rotating and vertically scrolling nature of the Everfall universe presents serious problems for an author intending to create a continent with a variety of biomes. Air descending from far above would create a very static set of weather patterns. On earth, the globally unpredictable weather is broken up into even further chaos by local small-scale convection cells which change as the Sun moves across the sky, and again as the surface cools during the night. But in Everfall, there would be no such changes. The air descends in a laminar curtain from the double rectification of the Barrier and the thousands of kilometers of free-fall, and the local convection is static due to the unchanging input of energy from the Sun in both quantity and magnitude. In contrast to the changeable weather described in the book, Everfall should have a frightfully static climate, as free from variation as the environment it is situated within. Indeed I find it difficult to imagine a setting more immune to disturbances. It makes one wonder how humans came to inhabit a world so little in need of their ability to adapt.
On top of all that, nearly all terrestrial life is adapted to deal with the day-night cycle. So, straight away, adding this feature means re-thinking all of the flora (and much of the fauna as well) in Everfall. Plants, for instance, would have a very different structure. I suspect the “trees” and bushes would more resemble sea fans than the forms we are used to, as they would only ever need to gather light coming from one direction. One might argue that grasses would still exist (though I tend to think not as detailed below), but their blades would likewise be aligned to the sun, and probably much broader than terrestrial grass. Since the shadows they cast would never move, little would grow in their shade, apart from mosses which could survive in the diffused light of the sky.
Okay, let’s talk about that for a bit, because I’ve already mentioned in the world-wrapping section that there would be a seamless layer of cloud just beneath the barrier, tens if not hundreds of kilometers thick. We are told the light from the Sun enters the world at the Barrier, which answers the important question of how light gets into this vertically scrolling universe, but it creates several more problems. The light would be entirely blocked by the veil of fog! In fact, the light reflected off the white cloud layer immediately below the Barrier would probably be the brightest illumination that would reach the floating continent, under-lighting everything with a uniform brilliant glow from below. And even if that wasn’t the case (which the description in the book makes clear), the dust and debris in the air would block it out, worse than the harshest sandstorm. And even if we ignore THAT (which we kind of have to because the visibility in the book is always described as excellent), the depth of the atmosphere itself would diffuse the light to such a degree that the image of the sun would be entirely lost in the haze. Instead of a “blindingly bright orb that was the sun” in “the blue sky” we would expect, even without cloud or dust, something more like a nightmare mid-day sunset with a sullen nearly-infrared glow in the sky, and twilight purples fading into inky blackness all around, lit with not even the hint of star or moon.
But, okay, let’s imagine the air in Everfall is as unnaturally clear as described in the book, so that the light from the Barrier can reach the surface of Tellos still well collimated enough to cast distinct shadows. There’s still a tremendous problem with the world as presented. Right at the south end of the continent is the region titled “The Shadowlands” where the light from the Sun is blocked by the image of the continent above the barrier. You see the problem? The light entering at the barrier is blocked by the continent above the barrier! It makes no sense! The image of the Sun should be clearly visible in “The Shadowlands”, shining in front of the image of the continent above.
Now, it is true that, if the air is magically clear enough for light to pass once through the world, it could just as easily be magically clear enough for light to pass through multiple times. Perhaps light just doesn’t diffuse at all? In that case, there would be an infinite amount of light shining down from the sky! Or, hmm, maybe it’s something like a laser? There’s a miniscule amount of light which naturally generates at the Barrier, perhaps at a frequency invisible to the human eye, and then any light that passes through the Barrier gets blueshifted, eventually reaching Sun-like frequencies? That would explain the Shadowlands anyway. It has the added effect that the shadows of objects which have passed several times through the barrier would be lit with a redish Sun, as the background illumination rebuilds to nearly normative levels.
This blueshift theory has difficulties of its own, as the longer wavelengths would be very prone to edge diffraction. It could be a neat effect, giving many-pass images a rainbow halo of low frequency diffracted light. Though, if light just magically doesn’t diffuse in air, it could also just as easily magically not diffract as well. Personally, I prefer less contrivances, but if these are the contrivances we have to live with, that’s fine. As I’ll discuss later, light is tied into the magic system of Everfall, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to accept that light itself has properties and behaviors in Everfall that we wouldn’t normally expect.
The difficulty, as with so many of these other quibbles, is that Shad has artlessly belabored us with explicit narration explaining many of the aspects of Everfall. He leaves almost nothing to the reader, baldly telling us how things work. As a result, when details are left out, it feel more like a result of insufficient thought than intentional mysteries left for the reader to discover on reflection. If the narration were more subtle, I could congratulate Shad on portraying a fully realized setting, hinting at enough depth to satisfy a careful reader. As it is, I must sadly demure such compliments.
So, we’ve arrived at a possible theory of the sun in Everfall. Light doesn’t diffuse at all, and gradually increases in frequency as it passes repeatedly through the Barrier. This explains all the observed phenomena in Everfall, except that THE SKY IS BLUE AND HAZY! While still very near the Barrier, Daylen looks down to see the land below “barely visible through the clouds and the blue haze of the air.” I’m at a loss. If the land is barely visible through the haze, the sun should be greatly blurred from the surface. And if the sky is blue, then light diffuses in the atmosphere similarly to real life. We’re back to this whole thing being a crock of nonsense, including the Shadowlands not existing at all.
So, the Sun and the clouds are both broken in Everfall, and entirely without reason! It would have been fixable if SotC didn’t clobber us with the technical exposition! Stop telling us how things work! Okay? Okay!
Okay. I’m done with the sky… again. Let’s go back to plants.
We read of “trees” which have “stumps” and “trunks” and “branches” but this is all generic enough to indicate the flat fan-like growth we would expect rather than the more domed or conical terrestrial forms. Unlike in our world, where plants grow toward the light as the simplest best strategy for gathering light, in Everfall the optimal strategy would be to grow at right-angles to the light, to intercept the maximum illumination. I would expect all plants would grow at a 45 degree angle, upward and southward. As above, they would be broad and flat. Weeding would be greatly simplified, as you would only need to clear the sunward side of the plant. Propagation would be an interesting challenge, as seedlings wouldn’t do well at all in the shade of their parent plant if dropped straight down, and if they grew up north of the parent and shaded it out, that’s a wash as well. I guess they would flower east and west? Or have really long stalks that reach far enough North and South that there wouldn’t be much shadow overlap?
Farms would prefer furrows in east-west lines, and would be evenly spaced to reach maturity just as the northern row’s shadow reached the southern row. Depending on the height of the plants (we read of a “shrubby field” so waist high seems plausible), this would lead to rather wider furrows than we are accustomed to on Earth.
But there’s another problem, a deeper one that doesn’t appear fixable by purely thermal Barrier-mediated seasons. On earth, and in the latitudes normally associated with the vaguely medieval cultures that Everfall seems to evoke, there is a growing season when the days are long, and a fallow season when the days are short. Fields are plowed at the beginning of the growing season in order to keep weeds down, and most of the regular crops that are grown in fields are annuals, which die off in the fall. But in Everfall there is no winter, and not even night, just a perpetual early-summer noon. “Annual” crops (including grasses) would never develop under these conditions. Farmers would tend orchards or vineyards (we read of wine in Everfall) instead of fields. And even then, without seasonal variations in light, the “trees” would bear fruit on a continual basis, just as the tropical banana does on earth. There are “plows” in Everfall (darkstone or animal powered) but these would likely only be employed when planting a newly cleared plot. Farmers “working” the land without the annual die-off would work much more like managing a tropical plantation than a temperate patchwork of fields. The uniformly irrigated climate from world wrapping (mountain ranges can cast no rain shadow when the moisture drops straight down) combined with the day without winter or night seem to indicate the countryside would be covered with jungle instead of the semi-arid grassland that is described.
Along the same tropical theme, we might expect the animal life of Everfall to draw more inspiration from rain-forests than taiga. We read of wild dogs and wolves. Not a strong start, as these general purpose scavengers of grassy plains do poorly among the deep ecological niches and consummate specialists of the equatorial apex biomes. There is something called a “grif” which merits no further mention and therefore bears no further examination. Birds are mentioned twice in passing, but with no details. One would imagine that huge winged gliding creatures, like the mythical Roc or the all-too-real albatross would flourish in a sky-filled world, but if they do, the narrative gives no hint of them. There is no mention of cats, and almost none of cattle. “Two milking cows” (why not “dairy cows”?) make an appearance, and there is once a horse-drawn cart, but there is otherwise no mention of grazing wildlife. Given the soundly European flavor to the examples of animals, I’m prepared to call out this aspect as well to be insufficiently thought through. There is also a mention of an “ivory-key” piano which implies, if not elephants, at least large tusked animals of some sort.
But what about dragons? Drakes exist, we learn, but (as Daylen informs us in ever-irritatingly authorial tones) they are herbivores, and live on “shrubs that grow on the underside of the continent.” So, we’re back to plants now I guess. What is this fascination with shrubs? If they hang from the underside of the continent, the most obvious form would be the vine, not the bush. And, hang on, this is still the section about light! The underside of the continent should be in constant deep shadow! If plants grew there at all, one might expect them to form thick deep green mats like moss. I’m imagining an upside-down kelp forest, which seems to fit nicely. Hopefully the drakes that graze among them have darkstone talons that they can sheathe to perch in mid-air like bats. You can have that one for free Shad.
Actually, bit of a sidenote here, you can all have all of this for free. For reasons which I expound on elsewhere, I believe Intellectual Property as a concept to be (to infringe on one of Shad’s favorite phrases) a “load of bull”. I consider everything I create, and everything I know, to be entirely and forever free of intellectual property restrictions of any kind. If Shad (or anyone else) wants to use any of the ideas I’ve described here, I actively encourage it. Don’t feel guilty that you didn’t come up with it yourself. Don’t imagine that I did it ex nihilo either. We all learn from each other, and we are all inspired, to varying degrees, by God.
Speaking of God, the Light has a significant cultural and religious place in Everfall for reasons that I’ll go into more later on. But For now I’m going to use it as a segue to talk about the effect of a motionless Sun on architecture. On Earth, building design has to accommodate a lot of variables. Changing temperature with the seasons, changing winds and precipitation with the weather, and changing illumination through the day and night. But in Everfall, none of these appear to change in the slightest. The temperature appears stable (though there is a mention of a “bad winter” it’s not at all clear what that means in this setting), there’s no reason for the winds to alter, and to top it all off the sun doesn’t move!
Given these conditions, buildings could be constructed to have an ideal temperature simply by adjusting the blinds, and have a roof facing the unchanging direction of the winds. As with the tropical tone that seems appropriate for the animals, I think “jungle hut” would be much more appropriate than the “stone” and “brick” buildings we read of in SotC. With a constant sun angle, earth-bermed buildings would be easy to illuminate, and much better insulated than the masonry structures that seem prevalent in the setting. I’ll go into emergent city planning in the section on Shades, but as with nearly all the aspects of this setting, there seems to be far too little thought put into the implications of a motionless Sun.
As for technology, well, the text describes that they know how to make lenses and mirrors. With a static sun, a solar furnace would be trivial to construct. Every home would have one for fuel-less cooking. If you need more heat in your home? Mirrors! Want a mine illuminated, or have a dark corner in your house (which could be deadly as I’ll examine below)? Mirrors! People would use them all over the place! We don’t do this in real life because the sun is down half the time, and even when its up it’s always moving. But in Everfall? Mirrors are THE no-brainer technology.
It gets even crazier when you recall that Darkstone exists in this setting. Want to burn down a city? Put a bunch of darkstone anchored mirrors in the sky. Why put Sunstones that burn out on your darkstone powered flying ship when you can use mirrors? Want to accelerate a darkstone sled to incredible speeds? Set up a sky road with mirrors! Need something lifted? Put a mirror on the bottom of a chunk of darkstone. None of these things are explicitly described as not happening, but as nearly all the Darkstone technology we hear about in the book works through the use of Sunstones instead of mirrors, I feel safe in asserting that Shad didn’t have solar mirrors in mind when he wrote SotC.
So, this is kind of interesting, because so far the things that set Everfall apart from reality have all been in the setting. That’s unusual! Most of the time, fantasy settings have fantasy “races” of nearly human creatures on a very earth-like planet. But here we have a very non-earthlike setting (and even less earthlike if we draw better conclusions about the implications) without a fantasy race in sight. It’s just humans all the way. Zombies count as humans, right? They don’t reproduce, and they don’t need to eat. And Everfall has its own version of zombies called:
We aren’t given a lot of information about the shade, but what we do know is that they are what happens to people who don’t get enough sunlight. How much is enough? We’re not told. Apparently you can tell if a person is close to turning, but none of the details are given. It also seems that Sunstones can act as a substitute for sunlight, but to what degree isn’t clear either.
The shade have light-associated superpowers as well. I was going to wait to discuss them until we got to the Magic section, but as these powers seem to have their own set of rules, I think it’s safe to address them here.
The first power is the ability to live forever without food or water (and I presume they can live without air as well, but that’s not made clear). I think they don’t need food anyway. Blackbeard “feeds” stuff to a couple of shade, but do they need food, or just kill things you throw to them? In any case, a foe that doesn’t need to eat and who lives forever kind of limits your options to defeat them. You can’t starve them out, and you can’t just wait for them to get old and die. It seems like if the Shade were at all intelligent they would barricade themselves underground, fortifying their position until they were basically impossible to dig out.
Then there’s the normal superpowers, flight, super strength and toughness, darkvision. They also can develop a bunch of conventionally “evil” powers like killing plants, raising zombies, and causing fear. That’s a pretty formiddible creature! Plus, since they absorb light around them, all they have to do to reproduce is stand next to you for long enough. Seems OP.
Of course, this change seems indefinitely inhibited by sunstone, and we know they have glass-working abilities, so it’s not clear why they don’t just encase sunstones in glass vials and then implant them in people so they are immune from being turned into a Shade. Shade Immunization! There! Solved it. And if you worry that the sunstone might run out of energy, just have it replaced every ten years. Shade booster shots! The people of Everfall don’t do this, though. Not clear why. It seems like turning into a Shade is a fate worse than death, despite their immensely powerful capabilities.
Being a Shade isn’t all infernal screaming and tearing your foes limb from limb though. The main downside seems to be that Shades are pretty dumb. Also, they lose their powers when exposed to intense light, especially sunlight. So the Shade are kind of vampire zombies. And, since it’s always mid-day in Everfall, you’d think they wouldn’t be much of a threat. Sure, they might lurk deep underground, and you’d have to be careful if you were mining (maybe illuminate your mines with mirrors?) but if there’s no night then they’re way less problematic than morlocks or bogies. Like vampires in a world of perpetual day, the creatures of the night just don’t have the same menace without, you know, night!
But that’s another fascinating twist to the setting of Everfall, and like all the twists before, it brings it’s own attendant train of problematic questions. Apparently there are such things as Shade Nightcasters, and they can blot out the Sun. That’s really inconvenient! If they can cast darkness over the whole world for long enough to turn everyone into a shade, it seems like humanity wouldn’t have a shade of a chance. And it turns out they CAN sustain it for that long. According to every indication in the story, and unless someone stops them (which I’ll get to later), they can sustain the darkness spell indefinitely! For example, the most recent Night (the Fourth Night) lasted fifteen years. (!) So, since we’ve basically run out of things to say about the Shade, let’s talk about:
Night in Everfall
Night on Earth is accompanied with falling temperatures, and a world-wide night lasting fifteen years would easily freeze the very atmosphere solid. Since this doesn’t happen in Everfall, we must assume that the thermal balancing effect of the Barrier has a target temperature instead of simply making things colder. So things may be dark, but at least they would be warm, and there would be liquid water to drink.
Another thing that happens at night on Earth is that plants stop producing energy. Since plants are the foundation of the vast majority of terrestrial foodchains even a night one year long would end nearly all plant, animal, and insect life, even if it somehow magically didn’t get too cold. Everfall doesn’t have a hot core, so there wouldn’t even be holdouts of bacteria around thermal vents. Seeds only stay dormant for a year or two, a decade at most. And that’s assuming fungus didn’t wipe them all out, which it would, especially if the climate was warm and wet, which Everfall seems to be. Once the fungus and consumed all sources of chemical energy, it would itself succumb to ever more poisonous fungi until the entire biomass of the universe was reduced to only the most lethal cytotoxins. Even if day did come again, the sun would shine on a sterile world suffused with utterly lethal poison. Since this doesn’t happen in Everfall either, we have to assume that people kept some meager ecosystem running with the help of Sunstones. Anywhere there were no Sunstones, or where they didn’t last long enough (we know from the story that Sunstones can burn out in something less than 20 years) we would expect the same death and rot to set in.
And another thing that happens at night is nocturnal predators come out to hunt. While there naturally don’t appear to be any nocturnal predators in Tellos, there is one creature uniquely suited to the dark, which brings us back to the Shade again. With their dark-affiliated abilities, it really seems like they should be able to easily conquer the world given fifteen years of free reign. Maybe they don’t actually care about the surface, and the Nightcasters are some sort of doomsday cult even among the Shade, calling down the ire of the surface dwellers. That certainly seems to be the case, considering that, while the Shade may seem overpowered, they are more than matched by:
The Archknights and Lightbringers
In short, Archknights (Knights for short) have all the superpowers but are limited by access to light, and Lightbringers (Bringers for short) can create light and heal others (along with various super powers) but are limited by goodness. Like, if they are bad, they lose their powers.
This condition on Lightbringer abilities brings us to another really interesting and problematic feature of Everfall. In addition to having an absolute and objective spatial reference frame, Everfall has an absolute and objective moral reference frame. This means you can do empirical moral experiments in Everfall! You’d think this would have drastic effects on religion, but the moral systems in Everfall seem pretty much the same as those of terrestrial residence. Even without a scientific method of morality, you’d think that Bringers would occupy all voluntary positions of power. We know from the story that they are the preferred dueling judges. What I don’t understand is why they aren’t the ONLY judges, lawyers, and politicians. It seems like, given an objective and testable metric for ongoing moral virtue, everyone would expect that as a minimum for those in power. Sure, you have a smaller pool of candidates, but that just makes selection easier. It’s not like there are any downsides.
So, okay, that’s a problem too! There are no downsides to having these super powers! Knights and Bringers eat the same amount of food, and generally have the same needs as normal people. Their powers have weaknesses (Knights lose their powers when touching darkstone, and Bringers have to stay good), and limitations (powers fatigue if used constantly), but even powerless they simply go back to being normal people. If there were some kind of terrible cost involved it would make sense that only few people would become Bringers, but we are told of none. It seems gaining Knight powers has a 1/3 casualty rate, but given the alternative of NOT HAVING SUPERPOWERS this seems a very attractive gamble.
Given what we know, I would expect Tellos society to pressure everyone to attempt to gain Bringer abilities, just as everyone in modern society is expected to get a college degree if they can. Those who were unable to attain Bringer status would be expected to undergo the process of becoming a Knight. Those who lacked the moral fiber to become Bringers and the willingness to sacrifice themselves to become Knights would quite reasonably be outcasts, and possibly even outlaws. This super-powered society would be objectively superior to all others, both morally and physically. Once established, I see no way in which a serious threat could be posed to this arrangement. External threats would be so inferior to each individual member’s abilities (a single Knight can defeat an entire fleet of military skyships) that conventional nations would have no capacity to challenge them in combat. As to internal threats, with Bringers in all positions of authority, corruption and malice would be unheard of, and there would be no incentive for rebellion. The fact that any non-powered aristocratic or monarchical societies exist in Everfall at all is patently absurd, let alone them being the norm.
As to the details of the powers themselves, I felt they were quite well demonstrated and consistent throughout the story. They employ conservation of momentum to good effect, and seem to interact with the world in believable ways. Super strength lets you lift heavy things, but doesn’t keep your feet from sinking into the road. Super reduced mass doesn’t keep you from drifting away on the breeze. Super speed can make you catch air when cresting hills. There are exceptions of course. Here are all the places I noted where the powers don’t seem to work like they should:
- When Daylen changes his mass, his clothing is explicitly not affected. While falling, he can smell the dirt on his shoes, so we know he’s wearing shoes. His shoes should be completely ruined when he lands, yet later he removes his shoes while doing an experiment to avoid damaging them.
- At one point Daylen is using super strength to carry entire felled trees from a field that is soft enough to till. His feet should be sinking into the ground up to his hips. He shouldn’t be able to walk on soft ground at all while carrying a load like that.
- Daylen binds light to his ability to grip, effectively giving himself spiderman wall climbing powers. This magically works on his feet as well, even through the soles of his shoes. Maybe that’s just how the magic works, but it still bothered me.
- Daylen has learned to do a “mass break” where he increases his mass while falling. Due to conservation of momentum, this decreases his speed by the same ratio. That’s all fine. The problem is that, right at the beginning of chapter seven, he falls off a building, increases his mass to slow down, and then returns his mass to normal before landing, so that he doesn’t damage the pavement. Pretty sure this would increase his speed back to normal, accomplishing nothing, but in the story it brings him to a full stop.
- Daylen quadruples his speed at one point, and mentions that he can run at 120 kph. Maybe the magic accounts for the non-linear air drag? Or maybe Daylen just thinks he is going 120 kph (he doesn’t seem to verify the results, he just asserts them) but it still felt like an error to me.
- Daylen increases his strength and speed and puches a guy hard enough to make him fly backward. The reaction force should make Daylen fall over too, but instead he just stands there like a bad-ass.
- A lightbinder is able to unlock darkstone in space by allowing it to absorb light from him. Daylen remarks that normal people can’t do this because the part of the dagger burried in the victim isn’t exposed to light, making darkstone weapons “very nasty”. But all you’d have to do to remove a darkstone weapon is cover the exposed portion with your hand, and then move yourself away from it, letting the spatial anchor pull it out for you. Since there’s very likely some blood involved, smearing some on the exposed portions would work as well. Removing a darkstone weapon from a wound would be strange for someone from our world, but for a native of Everfall it would be fairly straight forward.
- Near the begining of the story Daylen tries to heal his own lightbinding power, and suffers some kind of feedback backlash. Later in the story, Ahrek tells Daylen that he can’t rejuvinate his own light bringing powers because “It’s like trying to repair something that’s being damaged at the same rate”. Aside from the nonsense of the explanation (the healing happens much faster than the power is consumed) I liked the feedback angle better.
We mostly learn about Binding powers from Daylen’s internal narration which, in keeping with the rest of the story, tells too much and shows too little. Still, he experiments with his powers and we learn about them along with him. I have a few complaints here too, like when Daylen is falling to his death, comes up with a plan, and then fails to practice getting the timing right for several hours, pulling it off perfectly at the last second (of course).
Before wrapping up the superpower section, there are a few arbitrary limitations which apparently exist in the world, one of them explicit and one implicit. We are told early in the story that Bringers can not heal old age. Since they can otherwise repair radically grievous injuries such as limb loss, it’s not clear how this restriction makes sense. Why can’t they just “re-grow” the whole person? It keeps immortality out of the scenario, which I approve of as it simplifies things.
The implicit restriction arises when Lyrah tells us that she aborted her pregnancy, and accidentally sterilized herself in the process. If she’s not lying (and she might be, as Knights can lie without losing their abilities) then it seems that healing powers don’t work on the womb, and perhaps the entire reproductive system. I’m willing to grant that this is an intentional feature of the magic system, especially since if Knights could light-bind their reproductive ability, you’d get a runaway fertility situation which doesn’t seem to be the case. That, by itself, would be enough to re-think the entire societal structure, so it’s good that it seems to be ruled out as well.
One last note on light. Several characters refer to The Light, which at least one in-world culture also calls God (because Shad doesn’t trust the audience to draw even that stunningly obvious parallel). The only Bringer we meet in the story seems to have a direct channel of direction, as The Light can tell him what to do. Daylen also speaks of The Light as having a will which plays the part of Daylen’s remarkably selectively active conscience. We aren’t really told much about The Light as a personal entity, but it stands to reason that, in everfall, Sun worship might not be quite the superstition it is on Earth. One might hope we would have been shown more than we were told about this most important feature of the setting, but as already intimated, looking to be shown instead of told is a snipe hunt in SotC.
Taken as a whole, it seems Everfall would be a much more interesting setting if everything was turned down a few notches. The magical super-powers are too powerful, the world is too big, the Darkstone is too motionless, the morals are too empirically absolute, the foreshadowing is both too obvious and too lacking, the characters are too extreme, the climate is too temperate, the culture is too european, and the whole narrative tells us too explicitly what we are supposed to know. There are a few areas that I’d like a bit more of, the descriptions are too bland, and I’d like a bit more world-building in the flora and fauna – though that which was done didn’t strike me as particularly appropriate to the setting, so perhaps less is more in this case. The whole world-building enterprise reeks of over-ambitious departures from reality and a subsequent lazy import of most things from every-day experience even though they wouldn’t fit at all in Everfall.
As to the story of SotC itself, it was delivered with a heavy hand, but the characters and dialogue made it an enjoyable time. If you can overlook the questionable moral implications, the pandering to a modern audience, the inconsistent foreshadowing, the offensively convenient protagonist abilities, the bland descriptions, the lack of author confidence in the audience, and the endless excruciating exposition, if you can overlook all of that your reading experience will be much better than mine! And I had a good time! Part of that good time was enjoyment from gathering ammunition for this very essay, but I’m confident there was enjoyment to be had besides. Of course, that doesn’t mean all of this should have been written down as a story. Several parts feel more like an almanac or an encyclopedia. Perhaps the setting is the main feature? Perhaps the audience would prefer to weave their own stories in this ever-bright sky-island super-power playground! Perhaps Everfall would work:
Better as a Video Game?
Everfall would make a great videogame, probably an open world MMORPG. Light-binding powers operate by precise mathematical improvements to conventional RPG abstractions of physical attributes. Darkstone allows fuel-free flying machines (and factories) in an otherwise medieval-level setting. There’s the Underworld for PVE dungeon crawls, and a variety of warring kingdoms for PVP combat. It all feels rather conveniently reminiscent of an MMORPG setting now that I look at it. You could probably even play as a Shade, and work toward plunging the server into eternal night. There’s even the whole enchanting system in sunforging that I didn’t touch on because it was pretty good and didn’t suffer from the overabundance of inconsistent detail that plagued many of the other features of the setting.
It’s true that the medium is more difficult to work in, but Shad already seems to be interested in computer games and running his own servers and stuff. Getting into game-dev could be just the thing to allow this clever setting to reach its full potential! Change of medium aside, if Shad really wants to be an author, and he really has been working at improving his craft for over a decade, then I think he needs to face the hard reality that he is:
No Brandon Sanderson
From a meta-narrative perspective, a lot of the magic systems reminded me of the Mistbourne series. It’s no secret that Shad is a fan of Brandon’s work, so the similarity is probably no accident. However, the magic system was really the only difference between the real world and the Mistbourne setting, and even then a huge amount of thought went into working out the implications of that change to the setting. Shad did his own variety of a unique magic system, AND all of the cosmology differences that I outlined. While it wouldn’t be impossible to make this all work, it felt like the task was too ambitious for Shad’s patience. Tolkien took 40 years to work out his setting, and there were less differences between Middle Earth and Normal Earth than between either of those and Everfall. I’ve done my best above to attempt to offer rectifying comments on what errors I discovered, though it is likely that I missed quite a few things. From a world-building perspective, Everfall as presented in SotC could be a textbook case study of a setting crushed to fine dust under its moderately talented author’s unfettered ambitions.
I note with satisfaction that if we had been shown more and told less, much would have improved. It was not the phenomena of the world of Everfall that offended me, but how Shadow of the Conqueror explained the technical details which failed to adequately explain the phenomena. There would still be significant moral and societal disconnects between the people of Tellos and the world which has apparently always been their home. But the journey would have been more enjoyable if we were shown more of the world, out the window as it were, and if the tour guide’s PA system were not blaring in our ear.
As a debut novel, Chronicles of Everfall Book 1: Shadow of the Conqueror by Shad Brooks is a strong start. It suffers from over-exposition and overly ambitious world-building, but we may hope for improvement in future installments. As a story by a voiciferous critic of plot holes and internal inconsistency and a self-proclaimed author with over a decade of experience, SotC feels rushed to publication. None of these mistakes should have made it into the first draft, and certainly should have been caught in editing. On top of the technical errors, if the stylistic problems still exist after so much practice, an appreciable improvement by the next book seems unlikely. Much like Daylen, Shad’s unlikely history and checkered product leaves him with much to answer for. Let us hope falling through the barrier of publication has empowered him for the task.