A Shade of Madness follows on where successful debut A Touch of Light left off and dives straight back into a world in increasing peril. Thiago Abdalla continues to demonstrate excellent worldbuilding and the exploration of flawed characters trying to do what they believe is the right thing. Far from having any ‘middle book syndrome’, A Shade of Madness is another strong entry into The Ashes of Avarin series that promises more dark, high fantasy with a heavy focus on both death and, well, madness.
Our three POVs from the first book (Adrian, Nasha and Lynn) are joined by a fourth voice in Kadmus – a failed priest turned alchemical healer trying to secretly find a cure to the Madness sweeping Avarin. While he didn’t jump straight into the spot of favourite character for me, he brings a moral flexibility in his choices, motives and actions to the fore that the other three didn’t have. That said, Adrian’s arc becomes much darker over the course of A Shade of Madness as he is fuelled evermore by a vengeful rage.
Lynn faces new challenges as she is thrust into a position of leadership in the ongoing battle to save the Domain. She too struggles with some moral dilemmas where her faith and the dire circumstances of her surroundings butt heads. Nasha uncovers a lot about herself, her power and the history of the clan lands even as Zala reaches out to her and threatens to take her mind and her home. The theme of emotions in the formation of characters and the magic system really shines in A Shade of Madness and there are many ways the title feels so apt. Each POV character has different shades of madness touching them and steering them; it is captivating to read.
Throughout A Shade of Madness, titbits of information are revealed to the reader and the characters with just enough frequency and subtlety to never be too much. New hints and questions arise and by the end of the story you can flesh out the world a little more in your mind with plenty left unanswered to keep up the veil of mystery that Adballa is shrouding his full vision behind. This has been excellently balanced.
As John mentioned in his review of A Touch of Light, there is no handholding and the same is true of A Shade of Madness. I found this came through particularly well in the matter-of-fact feeling to some of the darker scenes, highlighting them by doing so. Death is supposed to shock us and Abdalla reminds us perhaps how easily we forget that.
The Ashes of Avarin is set to be a four-book series with both A Twist of Fate (book three) and A Promise of Dawn (book four) due out this year (2023). It’s an ambitious release timeline though it does mean you won’t have to wait too long in between instalments to get your hands on the full story.
A Shade of Madness is a great continuation of the series bringing just the right amount of fresh interest alongside what made A Touch of Light so good. It’s a high fantasy with heavy, dark themes expertly explored alongside smooth worldbuilding, clever magic and nuanced characters. An ominous set-up for things to come.