Shadows and Crows: The Lost — Book 2 by Peter Nealen is a dark and otherworldly adventure in a haunted world that sits right at the edge of familiarity. Like the spectres that lurk in the gloaming, it feels like if you listen long enough, you might recognize something you know. Alas, you will then probably discover that you have been sucked in and there is no escape.
Shadows and Crows is Peter Nealen’s second book in the WarGate style series The Lost. I feel like Nealen really hits his stride here, the pacing of this book was excellent. I always wanted to listen to just a little bit more, no matter what had just happened. I also enjoy Mark Boyett’s voice work, from the gravelly gunnery sergeant to the Irish-inflected Tuacha.
When we left off in the last volume, Conor McCall’s Recon Marines had narrowly escaped the Fohorimans, men twisted by dark sorcery, monstrous and misshapen. In the process, they found new allies, the Tuacha, who provide them refuge from the many dark things that lurk in the world they have found themselves in. Fortunately for Conor and the rest of the Marines who escaped, the bounty of the Tuacha includes the ability to resupply them will all the instruments of modern mayhem that an infantryman might desire.
In book 2, their services are required when the Isle of Riamog is attacked by something even more foul than the Fohorimans. You might think that their job is going to be straightforward, as they enjoy home field advantage and they have been re-armed. This is where Nealen gives the Marines a worthy enemy, one who can use the dark magics of this world to counter the advantages of man-portable machineguns and 40mm grenade launchers. I won’t spoil the fun here, as I found the whole thing so well done.
In the aftermath of this attack, the Tuacha discover that a sacred artifact has been taken from their lands, along with the holy woman who was its guardian. Neither the Tuacha nor the Marines can abide such a thing, which is the event that sets the rest of the book in motion.
You might think you know what you are going to be in for here. The Marines and their Tuacha allies will use their martial skills to hunt down whatever eldritch trespasser violated their new home, rescue the damsel in distress, and frag/ventilate anything that gets in their way. In a general way, these things can be expected, but there is more to this book than it might first seem.
The reason why is that Shadows and Crows is a Gothic adventure. I am going to take a detour to explore what this means, as the term Gothic can have a variety of meanings ranging from the architectural to the aesthetic. In this case, what makes Shadows and Crows Gothic is that getting killed by a monster in the dark isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a character.
The worst thing that can happen is a character can lose their honor, and their soul. That they can side with Evil against Good and abandon their principles in the pursuit of power. When Conor and his platoon were transported into this world of ice and monsters, the veil was torn, and many things that were hidden in our world were lain bare.
In a Gothic adventure, the conflict is not only between men and monsters, but within each man’s heart. The fault line between good and evil lies there, and the true struggle is within even as the visible servants of darkness must be vanquished without.
Yet, there are compensations for the unclean things that roam the world freely. There are not merely hints of holiness, but shining exemplars of heroic virtue that confound the wicked things with piety, meekness, and humility. With faith like a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible to them. The discipline and sacrifice of the holy ones amazes Conor, as it should. It is easy to write a book where the heroes deliver kinetic violence to the wicked. It is far harder to write one that plausibly leaves those competent in breaking stuff and killing people in awe of a man whose weapons are prayer and fasting.
This is what elevates Shadows and Crows above your average mil-sf. At least to my outsider’s eye, Nealen gives the verisimilitude expected of a book that wants to explore how modern military tactics and weapons could be used against things that go bump in the night. Where things get far more interesting is when Nealen brings in hope, and the possibility of redemption for even the most wretched.
I am enjoying this series immensely, and I wish Nealen continued success.
The author’s website is https://www.americanpraetorians.com/
Other Books by Peter Nealen
Other WarGate Books
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Hit & Fade: Forgotten Ruin Book 2 Book Review
Violence of Action: Forgotten Ruin Book 3 Book Review
Lay the Hate: Forgotten Ruin Book 4 Review
The Book of Joe: Forgotten Ruin Book 5 Review