Indie Review: Shadows of the Highridge by Jay Swanson (2015)

ARC provided by author, because he’s a gentleman and a scholar.

Shadows of Highridge is a tight, action-packed story set in the foothills of the Highridge Mountains. It follows a bright, evolving cast of characters who are rarely what they seem to be on the surface, and unravel piece by piece throughout the story. Tolly, a farmgirl, watches as her family is brutalized; helpless, scared, she flees for her life. Vanig is a drought-stricken farmer who lost his family previously, searching for water when he is approached by mercenaries, sent to apprehend him for crimes he didn’t commit. Salisir is a mysterious soldier from a far away land, appearing at a suspicious time, and getting rolled into the group.

Oh, and did I mention there are Tremors-style groundworms? Yeah, there’s giant effing worms.

Jay’s writing grows with each piece I read from him, and in the case of this book, the characterization and action are in the forefront. Each of the various people in the book have depth, evolve, and slowly reveal the pieces that make them who they are. None of the main characters seem to lack an “OHHHH!” moment, as their motivations, past actions, motivations etc are revealed, sometimes out of left field and in complete surprise. Jay thought these characters through, gave them reasons for their actions, explanations as to why they acted and spoke the way they did. This is the backbone of his story, and is what really drives the point forward.

Additionally, there is AMPLE high-energy action scenes, chases, escapes, puzzle solving, and very dire situations. While the ancillary characters died with abandon and the main characters had a hint of plot armor (spoiler: not all of them), every one of these scenes was nail-biting, and Jay handles his suspense extremely well. The characters drove the plot, but the suspense and action kept the book exciting, and gave great changes of pace.

Jay is growing as a writer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read from him thus far. He’s pushing some boundaries with his crowdsourced writing, and the end products are a lot of fun, and the physical books are gorgeous, of nice quality, and something I proudly display on my shelves. I’m excited to watch as he continues to develop, and as his world continues to evolve. Anyone looking for a quick, exciting read, with really great characters, should grab this one up while they can.

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