Stalking the Shadows by BJ Edwards is a novel based on the early era of human beings, set between the upper Paleolithic and lower Mesolithic eras. This is a tale of bravery, care, friendship, conspiracy, animosity, cruelty, magic and gods. The rich vocabulary, philosophical writing and poetic style in describing nature are visible right from the beginning of the book. In the author's note, one gets an idea of what to expect from the coming chapters: "Epochs come and go, the world changes, nature yawns and stretches, reminding us of its might. Britain is populated and re-populated. Humanity waxes and wanes, slave to the climate and prey to fate’s unforgiving hand."
The story begins with an accurate physical description of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals: "They were a robust species; tall, proud, strong and viciously territorial. Their features were strong, their foreheads narrow, their jaws and brows slightly jutting. Their bodies and limbs were thick with muscle, and although slightly hunched they were fast and athletic. The enemy was a new breed of man, the Homo sapiens. They were taller and more wiry; where the Neanderthals had hair and muscle, the Homo sapiens had paler skin and sinew, their foreheads broad, their lips thinner, and their noses sharper. They lacked the power and the strength of the Neanderthal, but they made up for it in intelligence, adaptability, and resilience."
Dimek is the son of the chief of the tribe of Homo sapiens. One day, he goes hunting to prove his worth. Instead, he finds himself trapped in the claws of the animal. In spite of knowing that he is their enemy's son, two men of the Neanderthal tribe, save him. He becomes a part of their tribe, known as the Impoola tribe.
Hamek, the father of Dimek, sends his men to bring his son back. His men kill every man, woman and child of the Impoola tribe brutally. They find Dimek and take him with them; the elder of Impoola tribe, however, curses their land. As a result, their land becomes deficient of food. The chief, Hamek, calls his people to discuss their situation. A wise man named Drushuk, suggests to them that they leave the tribe, but they deny his opinion.
Dimek also agrees with his suggestion, but cannot contradict his father, the chief. So, he collects men — Drushuk, Kapok, Troka, Radka and a few others — and begins his journey to find a new land. Hamek sends Mugra, who is a cruel and ferocious warrior, to bring Dimek back. He fails in his attempt when Drushuk casts a spell, and a river starts drowning his men. Hearing that Mugra has come back empty handed, Hamek sends a warrior to kill Drushuk; however, Mugra finds out. When he confronts Hamek, he throws Mugra out of the tribe.
In the world of gods, there is a rise in problems. Balor and Camulos, who do not want humans to live, are trying to destroy humans. Vantis and Modron warn them of their ways, but they do not pay any heed to the warnings. They are not wrong, as in the words of Balor: "We must destroy them, destroy the moon and sun, Modron and Vantis, that the humans have nothing to believe in. We must destroy the road and bridge so their dead are never reborn. We do this to preserve ourselves, for one day the mortals will stop believing in us and we will perish."
They take control over Mugra's mind, and he begins building an army to kill Dimek, Drushuk, Troka and others. Balor and Camulos meet their father, Net, to gain some leverage over Vantis and Mudron. To help his son: "Slowly, he pulls out his blue eyes — the jelly running like river mud down his face, his empty sockets dark wells of damp despair. With swift hands, he places the eyes on to the ground and with a great clawed foot stamps on them."
While reading this, I wondered what could someone do with an eye. The response to my question was equally confusing: "Balor smiles, and Camulos smiles. 'Take your spear brother' Balor says; without hesitation Camulos drives his spear into Balor’s forehead. Balor falls to the ground and pushes the eye into the new socket. The eye turns and fastens on Camulos; Camulos freezes and trembles. 'What is it brother?' Balor asks. 'Memories, and dreams rush in, the eye is evil, the eye is magnificent.' Both gods laugh and Balor closes his third eye and covers it with a hood."
Vantis and Modron start preparing their strategies to help the men and defeat Balor and Camulos. On land, men are preparing for their battles, while far away, gods are getting ready to protect the world.
Throughout 15 chapters of the book, there is a spellbinding description of magic and battles. Once you start reading the book, it is hard to put it down. A word of caution though, make sure to read with no distractions around because if you miss even a word of a sentence, you may miss the whole context. The author's writing is elegant, mesmerizing and poetic. His usage of simile and metaphor is inspiring and beautiful. Take a look at his description of sunset: "The sun a dim disc that seemed to touch the river, the sky dark and pregnant with black storm clouds."
The characters are well developed. They are introduced gradually. This works out to reader's advantage because an introduction to several characters at once may confuse the readers. Edwards gives a thorough description to his characters, which paints their clear picture in front of our eyes. His description of animals embodies the same level of sincerity and depth as that of humans. A magnificent description of the mammoth is enough to provide the readers a glimpse of Edwards' excellent prose: "She stood tall, proud, majestic and huge, her form mountainous and dark against the grey sky, her tusks long and curved shafts of ivory, pointed and deadly. She surveyed the land below her, her huge ears flapping gently, her trunk questing."
This action-packed novel has several spiritual and magical moments. An abundance of twists and turns kept me excited to read until the end. I am not a fan of the action genre, and yet, I found myself fascinated with this book. Edwards has written very graphic details of cruelty; therefore, the reader should read these descriptions with a strong heart: "He yelled before his tongue was gripped between slippery fingers. The pain was enormous. The red fleshy tongue plopped to the floor in a pool of blood and saliva. Then the club came, crashing into his knee caps, sending splinters of bone and mangled tissue flying into the air. His arms were broken at the elbows and his face turned into a smear of flesh as it was dashed by a rock."
The story progresses towards an epic war between gods. As a reader, I would have been very disappointed if the war had ended with no surprising elements; I am glad to share that I was not let down by the ending.
I found the usage of 'here' in place of 'hear', 'accept' instead of 'except', and a few other misused homophones. However, these did not reduce my interest from reading the book, because these mechanical errors were very few.
I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend Stalking the Shadows to the readers who enjoy an action-packed novel and who like reading a book that challenges their knowledge and includes fragments of magic and gods. I admired the entertaining, frightening and detailed description of action scenes, the author's metaphorical style of writing and the overall plot of the story.
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