Series: Birthgrave #2
Published: September 1st 2015 by DAW
Genres: Fantasy, Horror/Gothic
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Shadowfire (originally published as Vazkor, Son of Vazkor) is the second book in Tanith Lee’s Birthgrave Trilogy. In the first book, a nameless woman awakens from her slumber in a volcano. She was the last of a doomed race, and wandered the world in search of her past and her future. At one point in The Birthgrave, she has a child, whom she abandons with a barbarian tribe. Tuvek, that son, is the protagonist of Shadowfire.
Like his mother, Tuvek isn’t entirely human. But Tuvek himself doesn’t know that his mother isn’t the woman who raised him, and the beginning of his life is pretty much what you’d expect from the son of a barbarian chief, up until the tribal coming of age ritual. Because Tuvek and his birth mother have otherworldly healing abilities, the ritual tattoos refuse to stick to his body. At that point, Tuvek is branded as someone other. He also begins to see himself as an outsider. Then, when he stumbles upon the truth of his parentage, he sets out on his own journey to discover his heritage.
It’s fascinating to watch Tuvek learn about himself, because once you’ve read The Birthgrave, you know a lot more about him than he knows about himself. You know that a man named Vazkor imprisoned his mother in order to try to breed a powerful child. You know about the complicated emotional baggage that came with his birth. And so when you see Tuvek begin to hate his mother for abandoning him and to seek out his father’s legacy, you know that the full story is a lot bigger than the narrative that Tuvek is constructing in his head.
I liked Shadowfire a lot better than I liked The Birthgrave. The Birthgrave was Tanith Lee’s first novel, and you can tell. Whiled I love the aesthetics of the novel as the protagonist is wandering through haunted ancient cities or living among barbarian tribes, the character herself left much to be desired, as she kept falling into the same relationship trap where she was victimized by powerful men, over and over again for the entire book. With Shadowfire, we instead have a lead character who is multi-faceted, and the story feels like a progression rather than a repeat of the same scenario over and over again.