Shadow in the Dark (Book 1 of the Chronicles of Xan)

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Category: Contemporary
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Date Published: March 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 156
Print Price: $11.66
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Shadow in the Dark is a tightly crafted medieval crime thriller for young adults – but you might just enjoy it if you’re an adult, too!  I certainly did.  There are intense fight scenes, mistaken identities, deliberate and well-plotted investigations, light-handed introductions to things like Catholic prayer and theology, and genuinely human moments of grief, terror, love, courage, and honor.

Xan, short for Alexander, wakes up with a head injury and no memory of his past, his name, or even facts about how (1184 A.D.) English economy and government work.  He finds himself in the infirmary of a Benedictine monastery, and it is Brother Andrew who gives him the temporary name, while his health and memory recover.  This gentle, holy monk rapidly becomes a second father to Xan, helping the youth to seek out his family and to reclaim his forgotten life.  As Brother Andrew later explains, “By the grace of God, you are a strong lad.  I could see that in you right away.  That is why I suggested the name.”  Readers of all ages will enter completely into the other-worldly feel of daily life in the monastery, complete with a colorful cast of characters, each of whom is striving for holiness as he carries his own (sometimes comical) cross.

For example, meet Brother Oscar, the monk in charge of orphans:  “The monk’s gray eyebrows stuck out from his forehead in unexpected ways.  Large, rough hands added to an already intimidating presence.”  Brother Oscar greets Xan with great empathy, but the monk has a reputation for paddling boys caught breaking the rules, including the rule against staying up past bedtime.  Most of the orphans have been here since last year’s plague, so they have a few things figured out about the monastery.  While I promise there is no paddling in the course of this book, the boys do take shifts keeping night watch for a shadowy figure that appears on nights when deaths take place.  Xan is pretty sure this is just a tale told by the bully of the group, John, to keep the younger boys scared.

Gradually, Brother Andrew tells Xan that his village was burned by bandits.  Xan was found unconscious on the road heading toward the village, and some of the village’s refugees can be found at a nearby manor.  With that for a starting point, the pair set out on a walking trip to track down Xan’s past.  Brother Andrew, a man who faces formidable beasts in the forest, who later turns out to be something of a painter as well, surprises Xan by how easily he speaks with Lord Godfrey, lord of the manor nearest to Xan’s former village.  Lord Godfrey welcomes the pair graciously and assists them, but accidentally, their search crashes Xan and Brother Andrew headlong into the conspiracy involving apparently both the secular manor and someone within in the abbey.  Greed—greed for land, power and wealth—is the reason for so much death and fear and burning.  But whose greed, exactly?

Brother Andrew and Xan have bonded deeply, but still Xan does most of his detective work with the help of the other orphans.  (This is where adult readers will bite their nails and lose sleep worrying about Xan!)  Unlike the monks, the boys are well aware that someone or some unearthly thing robed in black (just like a Benedictine monk) slips through the shadows of the abbey before each targeted killing and raid.  They call this hooded terror The Shadow.  Something about it teases Xan’s foggy memory of what happened right before his head injury…. But he can’t quite recall.  Xan is the first of the boys to muster enough courage to hunt The Shadow on foot.  He wants to know where it is going.  And there’s something stuffed up its sleeve, too.  Is it a weapon?  A letter with instructions to kill someone in particular?  Perhaps the letter is signed and will solve the whole mystery!  Xan quickly discovers that The Shadow leaves footprints and therefore has feet.  However, since all of his deductive moves are slow, youthful, and fraught with risk, it is a nerve-wracking investigation!

When the children finally have enough evidence together, they approach Brother Andrew and the prior.  Since the holy men are not eager to indict anyone, much less one of their own, steps forward remain measured.  Meanwhile, the abbot is critically injured, and the monastery itself is set ablaze.  The monks are divided on how best to protect themselves and the orphans.  And since The Shadow wears a black robe, it is truly hard to guess which monks to trust.  The plot twists and turns to a very satisfying final spin, leaving the reader guessing to the last pages.  Just when you think you have the mystery solved, our clever author pitches new evidence into the brewing pot.

In the end, the good men, all of them heroes, far outnumber the villains.  This book is spell-binding for its electric suspense and inspiring for its upright characters in deadly circumstances.  Expect many asides for Catholic culture, a masterful plot, and a few sleepless nights as you race to the finish!

Publisher:
ISBN-13: 978-1602903685
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches


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Juliana Weber works in religious education for a parish in the Archdiocese of Washington. She holds degrees in theology and psychology, but she’s also an avid musician and aspiring writer. For her book reviews on pastoral topics, visit http://humanumreview.com/contributors/juliana-weber.


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