Shadows of the Short Days, Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson – Book Review

Hello Humans! A couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending the Gollancz bloggers and press presentation at their very swanky offices in London. While there they pitched a whole host of their releases for the rest of the year many of which had us oo-ing and aah-ing like old people at a firework display. One such title that definitely grabbed me was Shadows of the Short Days which sounded so unique and interesting that the minute I got home you can bet I requested a copy on NetGalley. This Icelandic fantasy utterly captivated me and I’m delighted to share some of my thoughts with you.

shadows of the short days

Goodreads Summary:

A strikingly original Icelandic debut set in a strangely familiar alternate Reykjavik where wild and industrialised magic meet.

Perfect for fans of contemporary fantasy in the style of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians or China Mieville’s The City & The City

Sæmundur the Mad, addict and sorcerer, has been expelled from the magical university, Svartiskóli, and can no longer study galdur, an esoteric source of magic. Obsessed with proving his peers wrong, he will stop at nothing to gain absolute power and knowledge, especially of that which is long forbidden.

Garún is an outcast: half-human, half-huldufólk, her very existence is a violation of dimensional boundaries, the ultimate taboo. A militant revolutionary and graffiti artist, recklessly dismissive of the status quo, she will do anything to achieve a just society, including spark a revolution. Even if she has to do it alone.

This is a tale of revolution set in a twisted version of Reykjavik fuelled by industrialised magic and populated by humans, interdimensional exiles, otherworldly creatures, psychoactive graffiti and demonic familiars.

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Before I start I will echo (at least) one other reviewer who remarked that this book would be a lot easier to read if the glossary were at the start of the book. That’s possibly a quirk of reading from a digital proof copy, but if you’re on the fence about whether to get print or digital, I’d probably recommend going for print so you’ll have the ability to flick back and forth. While the book is in English there are a lot of Icelandic words in there and everything makes a bit more sense when you can quickly work out just what’s going on. – My two cents.

But I really loved this book. I’m always on the lookout for fantasy that doesn’t feel like something I’ve read before, without just being weird for the sake of weirdness. Shadows of the Short Days manages to simultaneously capture a huge number of tropes that I adore, while also feeling utterly new and distinct. I loved Garún, one of the two points of view in this story. She’s most easily described as a badass, half-human half-huldufólk (other folk…kind of like the fae but less blah), revolutionary, a magical, graffiti artist. Yeah. She’s great. You first meet her while she’s painting subversive graffiti around the city and gradually you watch the movement she is a part of building grow into something far beyond her.

I thought it was very clever and unique to have Garún be part of a pre-existing revolutionary movement. So often in fantasy, the young female characters get swept up into a revolution – without too much agency until the end where they discover that they really do care about uprooting the norm after all! In this instance, Garún is a key part of a more believable movement that grows and develops throughout the story. I will say, this is a white author very clearly writing a racial analogy – something of a red flag, but I did think it was well handled. I’ll be interested to read some reviews from reviewers of colour and see what their thoughts are.

I also enjoyed the way that this book plays with you a little, in terms of who the villain(s) are. It manages to twist and turn in such a way that you can tell who is morally grey but it wasn’t clear at the start of the book where the plot was going to go and precisely who the antagonists would be. What it does do, is keep it clear why people do the things they do, which is very important when crafting any narrative.

I personally loved this story, but I think it’ll be a bit of a marmite book. You’ll either embrace it as I did or it’ll feel too weird and waffley. If you are reading it or planning to, what I suggest is to just let yourself go, to embrace the unfamiliar and let the story carry you. It’ll be a great ride.

My rating: 5/5 stars

I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Shadows of the Short Days is available July 25th

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What say you? What are some books that made you say ‘wow this is so weird and great’? Let me know in the comments below!


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