Visiting Mystical Japan: The Shadow of Black Wings by James Calbraith

Visiting Mystical Japan: The Shadow of Black Wings by James CalbraithThe Shadow of Black Wings by James Calbraith
Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Published by Flying Squid on July 1st 2012
Also by this author: The Warrior's Soul, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Chrysanthemum Seal, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Also in this series: The Warrior's Soul, The Islands in the Mist, The Rising Tide, The Chrysanthemum Seal, The Withering Flame, The Shattering Waves, The Last Dragon King
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 338
Format: ebook
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The divination clock is broken. The Year of the Dragon is coming.

In the midst of 19th century the world trembles before the might of the Dragon Throne’s ironclad navy and the dreaded Dragon Corps. A young dragon raider Bran joins a regiment of the Royal Marines, led by his estranged father, on a journey to the war-torn Orient.

In the lands of Yamato, sealed behind the Divine Winds, conspiracy to overthrow its military dictator grows stronger. A timid shrine apprentice Nagomi is haunted by the visions of dark future. Her only friend Sato, a tomboy samurai, strives for the right to learn and teach the art of western magic.

When Bran survives the sea disaster and gets separated from his bound-to–go-feral dragon, the paths of the East and West will cross in a way noone yet suspects...

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The Shadow of Black Wings is the first book in the series ‘The Year of the Dragon’, written by James Calbraith. It’s a young adult fantasy book, complete with dragon rides, magic, and demons. This series is an alternate history story set in Prydain, an alternate version of Brittain, Qin, an alternate China, and Yamato, an alternate Japan.

The novel follows the story of Bran, a young man who has just graduated as a dragon rider. He’s still not sure what he wants to do with his future and accompanies his high ranking naval officer father to the country of Qin. Bran never spent much time with his father as he was mostly away on duty and this is the perfect chance for them to reconnect. However, his father refuses to accept that his son is capable of not only making his own decisions but defend himself too.

In the second part of the book, the story focuses on what’s happening in Yamato. Two girls, Sato and Nagomi, are both working towards their respective futures: Sato, heir to dojo of her father, and Nagomi, in training to become a priestess. Sato knows how to wield a blade and is master of western magic. She passes on her knowledge of magic to the pupils of the dojo. Her father learned this style of magic from the Bataviaans, the only people who are allowed to trade with Yamato. They control who passes the magical barricade and which foreigners are present in Yamato at all times.

Nagomi, as a priestess in training, is learning about the mysticism of Yamato. The high priestess invites her to experience divination. The ominous vision of the apprentice is one of the oldest prophecies known to the Yamato scholars and one that would end the nation of Yamato as it is now. The high priestess asks her to keep this to herself.

Magic is fairly well explained in the first book. Sato teaches the basics of it to her pupils and in Bran’s story line his battle magic is explored as well. When writing, one of the most important rules when it comes to magic is that, in my opinion, its limitations need to be defined.. For example, one of Sato’s students asks if people can have an affinity with multiple elements. From previous actions, the boy is shown as greedy for knowledge and power, so Sato emphasises that using magic from all elements will shorten your lifespan. This helps define magic as a limited resource and not all-powerful, which makes the magic system all the more interesting to me.

On another personal note, one of the other things that impressed me is that all the Dutch was correct. I’ve often seen (and heard) ‘Dutch’ speech, while it actually was German or that the sentences were translated incorrectly.

The book ends quite abruptly. You know the story isn’t finished, but there are just no more pages. This is a perfect example of wanting to read faster and slower at the same time, because you want to know what’s going to happen next and, simultaneously you don’t want to finish the book. That’s why I’d recommend buying the bundle with the first four books , so you don’t have to wait at the end of one book before you start the next one.

The Shadow of Black Wings is a wonderful introduction in the alternate history where magic and dragons are real. It’s a fast paced adventure through a world where ancient mysteries are turning the world of three young adults upside down. The world as they know it is quickly changing and it’s up to them to adapt or perish.

About James Calbraith

James Calbraith is a Poland-born British writer, foodie and traveler.

Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around Polish universities, he moved to London in 2007 and started writing in English.

His debut historical fantasy novel, The Shadow of Black Wings, has reached Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semi-finals in 2012. “The Year of the Dragon” saga sold over 30,000 copies worldwide.

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