I remember picking this book up back in my university days but never reading it. It joined my collection of books that started collecting dust on my shelf. But as I was writing my own story, I started to have an interest in books that dealt with other cultures outside of the North American. I was happy to find that The Oathbreaker’s Shadow by Amy McCulloch was well written and a very enjoyable to read.
Raimanan (just want to say I love that name) is a brash young apprentice that’s hard not to love. He has a very one track mind at the beginning of the story as he’s dedicated to becoming a full fledged professional warrior (Yun). The story takes the time to really flesh out his goals and ambitions right away and then throw a wrench in everything. He is at his core a good person but like many of us has these built in prejudices that have been ingrained since his youth. It’s fantastic to see how the story slowly changes the perception of his world and those who reside in it. It’s a great example of how travelling, meeting and talking to people can broaden one’s understanding of different people and cultures. The supporting cast is also quite strong with Wadi being my favorite of the bunch. Some of the character interactions don’t feel as natural as I would like but those are few and far inbetween.
Amy McCulloch does a great job with establishing the world and the various cultures in it. There’s a strong weight that’s established behind the oath made from one person to another and it’s continually built upon throughout the story. Each culture has their perceptions on just how terrible breaking an oath is and if such an act could ever be forgivable. Seeing it through Raim’s eyes, both his own distaste and that shown to him, adds a great deal of urgency to his quest that feels appropriate. The various cultures in the world are given a good amount of time to establish who they are and how they all perceive each other. I thought this was really great as cultural perceptions, with all their unfounded prejudices or admirations, within stories always feel like such a great worldbuilding mechanic.
The hero’s journey that Raim goes on is one full of revelations, understanding, and re-evaluating perceptions of different cultures, friendship, and loyalties. The plot takes its time to establish the prejudices built into Raim early on as well as the consequences of his own broken oath. Before the inciting incident occurs, the severity of breaking a promise is well established early on. But as the story progresses, Raim’s perception of oaths, loyalties, and those who he looked down upon slowly changes in a way that feels natural. It’s great to see how he slowly overcomes his preconceived notions regarding people he’s never met prior to his adventure. There are only a few points that feel rushed, but generally the majority of the story is well paced. The important parts are given enough time to build up to for dramatic effect.
The writing style flows very smoothly and never feels like it hits a roadblock that stops the momentum. It’s easy to get lost in the story as each chapter is quick to read and leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next. I’ve noticed with a lot of books that use cultural settings outside of North America is that there’s a risk of using terms or verbiage that the average reader may not understand. There have been stories I’ve read where I’ve had to stop reading and look up the term so I could understand what was happening. Thankfully Amy McCulloch does a good job of keeping the word choice straight forward while still using cultural terms that are easily recognized or quickly explained to establish a Middle Eastern vibe to the story.
What Writers can learn from this book
Writing about cultures and cultural prejudices within the world an author creates can be difficult to create organically. One of the parts of this story I love most is how the concept of breaking an oath has such world shattering consequences regardless of whatever society Raim finds himself in. Even the people who have broken their oaths recognize how terrible it truly is. What makes this even better is that the reader gets to see how different the cultures are not only in how they go about their day to day lives, but moreso how they treat these oathbreakers. It’s a great way to establish differences and similarities between different societies.