December 5, 2013

Review: Shiloh by Helena Sorensen

Shiloh by Helena Sorensen
Published: 2013, Self-published
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: From the author
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“There is no before the Shadow. There is no beyond the Shadow. There is only Shadow. And it will feast on you as it has feasted on everything and everyone you love.”

Shiloh is a world cloaked in shadows. It’s a world of fear and hopelessness, plagued by shadowy fiends and unending shades of darkness. It’s a world where people have started to forget their pasts, the glories that once were theirs, and all that humanity has the potential to accomplish.

All of that changes when Amos, only a child, wields fire and saves his family from the Shadow Wolves. For many, Amos represents the hope that their lives can be improved once more. But Amos is only a young boy, and the expectations that his father and mother, his young sister Phebe, his best friend Simeon, and all the people throughout Shiloh who know about his power are a lot to bear. Too much, perhaps, even for one with such potential.  
At a first glance, Shiloh appears to be a story about a chosen one: Amos, the first boy in a long time with the power to control fire. He has given his people hope where none was before. But with his power come duties and responsibilities that Amos is unable to provide, and his rise to power becomes instead a descent into infamy. This is not just Amos’ story, however; nor is it the story of his childhood friend Simeon. Instead, Shiloh features a broader cast of characters: Amos and Simeon, yes, and also Amos’ sister Phebe, Isolde, a girl out to save her sister, along with various adult mentors.

Even more than these youths, Shiloh is both the story and the history of a people living under a shadow, literally and figuratively. Sorensen is a very talented fantasy writer whose strengths lie in worldbuilding. I found Shiloh to be a complex, nuanced world. In this world, light is clouded at best, completely hidden at worst. And from the shadows come new dangers, such as the Shadow Wolves and Shadow Cats. The people have adopted to life there the best they could, but it’s not hard to see the adverse effects of a life without light. Even their internal lights, supposed to show their own radiance and power, have begun to fade.

In addition to the descriptions of the physical world that Amos, Simeon, Phebe, and Isolde inhabit, Sorensen has also crafted an exquisitely detailed mythology. Her ideas of creator gods may not be groundbreaking, but the mythology is solidly established. A prologue first introduces readers to the world of Shiloh as created (and warped) by the god Ram and his children. The Shadow and its horrors are the direct result of the gods Rurik and Riannon. And yet there’s much more to Shiloh than the evils of the Shadow, as the lead characters come to realize over time. The lore of the land is repeated many times, each time giving Sorensen’s mythology greater breath. I really appreciate solid worldbuilding and I found this to be a definite highlight of Shiloh.

Against such wonderfully detailed worldbuilding, the characters felt a little less fully realized. I still cared about them and their fates, but sometimes I had to pause to remember who each person was, and how they were connected to the overarching storyline. Still, though, I liked Isolde’s devotion to her sister Rosalyn and her determination to do whatever it takes to make her sister safe. I enjoyed Simeon’s conflicting desires to be like Amos and accept his decisions, versus his knowledge that not all of Amos’ decisions are the best ones. Best of all, I loved the internal war that rages within Amos to either use his powers as he sees fit, or to use them to help his loved ones.

The prose is also quite beautiful. Sorensen is at her best in describing the land of Shiloh and the mythology its inhabitants hold as truth. Her writing is fluid, poetic, and lovely. It was a bit of a surprise, therefore, to find that dialogue is written in such a heavy dialect. I can recall only one character whose dialogue sounded similar to Sorensen’s overall narration. At times it was more than a little jarring to go from some beautiful prose to overly simplistic dialect. As a reader I do not have a problem with dialect if the entire novel is narrated in a character’s voice, but the switching back and forth here made for some difficult transitions. Still, though, I appreciated how Sorensen emphasized the various educational and social differences of her characters.

Narrative choices, formatting issues with a pdf-to-Kindle-compatible ebook conversion, and not quite enough investment in individual characters meant that Shiloh wasn't a perfect read for me. Overall, however, I found myself quite impressed with Sorensen’s debut work. It’s clear she’s read many high fantasies and has striven to incorporate the same feeling in her own work, with considerable success. I look forward to seeing Sorensen’s skills grow through future works.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: I received this review copy from the author, but that in no way affected my opinion.  
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I've never heard of this one, but it seems very promising. I'll have to keep an eye out for this author and any future works, so thanks for putting it on my radar, Amanda! Fantastic review!

    1. It is definitely promising! I can see good things coming from Helena in the future. :) Thank you, Keertana!

  2. It seems like it would be a huge task to write high fantasy especially with detailed world building. Makes my head spin just to think about it. I'm not a huge fan of super detailed world building because I'm all about characterization, but I do enjoy fantasy when done right. The thought of living without light sounds so hopeless and very original. I'll have to check this read out. Great review, Amanda! :)

    1. A huge task, but also kind of a fun one, I think. At least that's how I view it when I read/write high fantasy. Characterization is also important, though. I like my fantasies to have it all. :) Thanks, Rachel!


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