Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

ShadowsoftheShadows of the Short Days is a difficult book for me to review.  It contains so much promise, is packed with vibrant imagery and magic, myths and folklore not to mention horror and yet I really struggled to get through it, which I think in the main part boils down to the fact that I didn’t really like the two central characters plus I think it was maybe a little too brutal.

So, how to describe SotSD.  Well, at its core it’s about revolution.  Here we have an alternate Reykjavik where magic and industry combine, where graffiti carries subliminal messages if painted with the correct ingredients and where prejudice runs rife.  Sæmundur is literally the mad scientist of the piece.  Expelled from University because of his radical ideas concerning magic, he’s a sorcerer on the edge.  Fuelled by drugs and his own sense of self importance he is determined to show the world his brilliance – no matter what the cost.  Garún, ex girlfriend to Sæmundur, uses magic to infuse her art and graffiti with messages in the hope of inspiring an uprising.  Garún has been oppressed her entire life for reasons completely outside her own control.  She is half human and half-huldufólk (hidden folk) which means she is accepted by neither.  The two of them will become the catalyst for violent change.

I have to confess that, even though this didn’t work it’s magic on me, there are some exceptional scenes in this book.  It’s truly a work of breathtaking creativity and a number of the chapters where we look at the past are really well crafted and downright enjoyable to read.  The seedy underbelly of the city and the underworld, accessed via unusual hidden portals are all brilliantly imagined and coupled with the very real tension that the author manages to create just gives the whole place an incredible sense of danger.

In fact, even at this point I find myself still thinking about this book, the strange sense of place and the underlying political messages.  To me, a book that makes me think about it after I’ve put it down has to be applauded, but at the same time this isn’t a book that I can say I enjoyed, and at the back of my mind there’s almost a niggling feeling that perhaps this shouldn’t be a book that you can say you enjoyed.  The oppression and sense of wrong together with all the hate that simply pours off the central characters all lead to a very dark and disturbing read yet at the same time one that demands attention and can’t be ignored even when put down.

In terms of my criticisms.  Well, in some respects I’m going to admit that this is probably more an example of ‘it’s me not you’.  This is simply too grim for my own tastes, and the horror is a little too near the knuckle – the sort that makes me squirm uncomfortably – also be aware that there is one particular scene that contains animal torture – so be warned.  Plus, as I mentioned above, both the MCs are difficult to like.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a good deal of sympathy for Garún and I can see why she’s consumed with such uncontrollable anger, but at the same time she’s so completely self absorbed that she really isn’t capable of making good or rational decisions, she wants change no matter how many people have to suffer in order to achieve it.  Sæmundur, well, he’s in a whole other class of unlikable, I don’t even want to think about him long enough to number them in this review.

Strange, surreal, violent, dark, disturbing, brilliant – I could reasonably apply all these words to this book.  If you like a good dose of weird and you’re not averse to grim horror then I certainly don’t want to dissuade you from picking this up – even though it was a little too much for me.

Rating 3 stars of 5

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.