Shadow of the Last Men is a gripping dystopian sci-fi fantasy from debut author J. M. Salyards.
It is a juxtaposition between modern technology and wealth for the privileged few (Order of the Last Men) at the expense of the majority (Outlanders) where brutality is the only means for the fittest to survive.
Contrasting the two polarities is the spirituality element (Mystic) seeking a non-violent reconciliation between the two extremes and an absolution of evil by good.The book follows the course of two protagonists, each representing the dichotomy of this grim futuristic society and a third who binds the two.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to The Harrowing Rain or Harrow, an Outlander warrior who crosses paths with Alouine Morningstar, the princess of the Last Men and daughter of the dead Chairman of the Highest Circle. Their meeting erupts into a feud that symbolizes the overarching disposition between the common man and the elite.
Quintain, a teenage mystic wise beyond his years has been searching for both Harrow and Alouine, aware the two fight against the same enemy and sees to the convergence of Harrow and Alouine’s paths.
The remainder is a narrative in overcoming the inherent struggle of the Outlanders over their circumstance, a two-fold mission as Quintain schools Alouine and later Harrow in, “to defend, and to heal.”
The metaphysical nature of this novel and the logical deconstruction of psychic apparatus, the id, ego and super-ego as it relates to the Order and the Outlander left me awe-struck by its sometimes subtle, sometime overt application.
The teenage Mystic’s teachings (for a lack of a better word,) reverberated in my thoughts over and over and it was hard not to excogitate the current state of the world I am living in on a micro and macro level.
Perhaps, this is the author’s intention, the book as a dissertation on how the common man has come to be forcefully retrofitted into a hierarchy of our own unspoken but pitifully obvious caste system by those we’ve elected or who have stolen the power from the people.
The mystic states it brilliantly “first get the future slaves warring with one another. Then send your own minions to conquer the remainder. To supplement physical anarchy, it is necessary to create a kind of anarchy of the mind.”
This type of discourse is prevalent throughout the book and thought-provoking in its prescription and enlightening in its message.
The writing is a mastery of our language. Intelligent, bewitching and evolutionary, I read with furious concentration as each word painted a picture of hope and despair in equal measure.
Beautifully crafted with a flair for the English language which is refreshing and hard-pressed to come across in the plethora of writing on the market, Shadow of the Last Men is a stand-out magnification of a battered dystopian world in desperate need of saving.
With enthralling characters who come full circle in their development and own self-realization, I was happily fulfilled knowing that their converged journeys still have a long road to travel.
Overall, there’s little fault I can find with Salyard’s first installment of The Next Men saga. My love for the written word was rewarded with an enduring story of destruction and resurrection that not only made me think but has left an indelible mark on my psyche all in a good way.
My rating: A well-deserved 5-star must read!
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