Another Night Circus Wannabe? Den of Shadows, Christopher Byford, Book Review

And we’re back with another book review. Feel’s like a while since I’ve written one of these, perhaps I’m reading too slowly this month? Who knows. Anyway, this book leapt out to me because it said ‘Perfect for fans of Caraval, Rebel of the Sands and The Night Circus.’ Well I’ve not read Rebel of the Sands (should I?) but I can certainly put my hand up and say I’m a big fan of the other two. But this recommendation always scares me somehow because more often than not the book is either a poor imitation of the Night Circus or not similar at all. But I knuckled down and read Den of Shadows and here’s what I thought…

Goodreads Summary:

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One…

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One night to forget all your troubles. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.

In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line, ruling with an iron first. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life. And now you’re about to find out why!

Welcome to the den…

Ok, let’s start with the big one. This isn’t really like The Night Circus or Caraval as much as I think one might be led to believe. It doesn’t have the fantasy elements or the really lyrical prose that characterises those two books. Where Caraval and The Night Circus really focus in on long descriptions of the setting, Den of Shadows looks far more at the people involved, with less descriptions of the goings on that occur on the train.

But I loved that! I don’t think Byford’s writing style would lend itself to that kind of description, so having a different perspective on this amazing travelling casino was really great. I felt, in a way, more connected to the characters than I think I would have done had the book consisted of more lengthy descriptions of what was going on. So let’s put aside these comparisons and judge this on it’s own merit shall we?

Character wise, I was very happy. Franco was a character you could love, hate and love again all in the space of a page, with multiple flashbacks Byford really shows you his character, revealing plot points only when necessary and at the perfect times. Misu, one of the two (two!) really cool female characters was also a really interesting character with a past she is ashamed of. Of all the characters it was actually Misu and Wyld (the stowaway thief) that I would really like to learn more about in a sequel or maybe a spin off novel (a brief glance at Goodreads would suggest there is no such novel planned as of yet.)

This novel reads a bit like a western, but not a cliché or tacky western, it just has elements that really spoke of that dustbowl environment, the technology, the brigands and the like. This was a really cool setting (pun not intended, the book is set in a very hot place) and I was definitely transported away while I read this, which is one of the very reasons I read at all, so I was very happy.

There are moments when this book drags a little, I found myself skimming a few pages waiting for the action to start up again. But when it does, it does so with great gusto so you’re never bored for long.

All in all, I felt this was a really strong novel, it had a lot of great character development and building and was a well thought out and engaging setting. Don’t kid yourself, it’s not The Night Circus but it doesn’t have to be. It is it’s own independant novel and deserves to be treated and valued as such.

My rating: 4/5 stars (knocked one star off for the slight drags but overall had a great time)

Den of Shadows publishes this week so you won’t have to wait too long to get your copy if you ordered now, my last check it was £1.99 on Kindle which feels pretty darn reasonable to me.

By the way, I was sent a digital advanced review copy of Den of Shadows by the publisher (HQ digital) via Netgalley (thankyou!) in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and you all know I wouldn’t recommend the book if I hadn’t enjoyed it.

What do you think? Are you as fed up with unnecessary comparisons to cult favourites as I am or am I being unreasonable (again?). Let me know in the comments or via twitter (@judithcmoore). Can’t wait to hear from you!

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