I was fortunate enough to read an advanced reader copy of The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves, although it took me long enough to get around to writing this. Life, as it goes, happens. However, in the time that I wasn’t able to get to writing this review, I read The Shield Road. And then I reread it.
By the time of writing this, I had read this magnificent collection of short stories four times. Without further delay, my review:
The Shield Road is a book, but not a novel. This is important to mention. The stories are all in the same world, and link events together, but are not a novel. This format worked excellently for the stories in terms of pacing, however, with no one story section feeling too drawn out. It worked well with the shifts in perspectives, as there are multiple points of view throughout The Shield Road. Each character’s voice and presence felt unique, with no two characters reading too similarly to one another.
In a word, The Shield Road is bingeworthy thanks to the format in which it was packaged. Fourteen short stories, among which is the Epilogue, play out as standalone pockets of islands of magic all making up a small nation within the sea of The Shield Road overall. Reading this was similar to sitting down and starting a limited run series, and I dare say that from a writing perspective that Hargreaves has created a world and tales within it that could go toe-to-toe with the popular limited series on any streaming service. Look out, Disney+.
Fantasy is a tricky beast. There are more serious, high fantasy stories (along the lines of Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire) and there are fantasy tales with judicial helpings of humor to them (think along the lines of Terry Pratchett’s works). The Sword Road is a rare treat in the fantasy genre, not taking itself too seriously and not leaning into the humor too much, but instead allowing moments of levity and fun while also following a narrative surrounding dour prophecies and separate yet converging journeys along the titular Sword Road. The naming conventions are not impossible to pronounce (with no surprise apostrophes splashed in for flair). The characters read like real people, who lived real lives. The heroes were not without flaw, but it was hard to not root for good to triumph over evil in the end (and, oh wow was that evil quite so–no spoilers, however).
Ultimately, I rate The Shield Road a glowing five stars but with an asterisk appended to that rating. The storytelling is compelling, fun, and accessible. The characters are all fully realized and could easily stand on their own without acting as plot devices to move the stories forward. The setting is immersive and easy to get lost in. My chief complaint? I wanted more by the time it ended, and that book hangover was only amplified by multiple reads despite knowing what was going to happen. These complaints don’t impact my rating of this book, however, as they are purely prescriptive and out of a desire to read more about these characters, the world of The Shield Road, and what trials and tribulations they experienced–before, during, and after the events of this book.
The Shield Road by Dewi Hargreaves can be purchased here and is available in both paperback and Kindle formatting, and would make an exceptional addition to any library.