Shadowcursed, by Gelo R. Fleisher, is a fantasy novella about an aging thief. At thirty thousand words it’s not exactly short, but the story was so engaging that I finished it in one sitting. Interestingly the author created a game, or more appropriately mod of Thief, to go along with the novella. I’m not sure if the game is meant to accompany the novella, or vice versa.
Shadowcursed starts by introducing the reader to an aging thief named Bolen. As the novella opens he decides to pull one last heist, while he still can. Afterwards there’s an exciting sequence of the actual heist, including some very good passages that reference Bolen’s age. While I have not been in the aging athlete position, and Fleisher is too young to be there, his writing of Bolen’s struggles with getting older and the effect that has on his body is perfect.
While the heist is in progress Fleisher also brings in aspects of the larger world. The only downside to this is that the world he creates is so interesting that I wish that there was more about it. The concept of a lord driven mad by a curse, and being controlled through that curse, is fresh. Then to have the lord start to regain his sanity is brilliant. During the heist Bolen over hears the mad lord speaking and I was startled by how sane this mad lord sounds. We discover quickly that Bolen stole the object saving the mad lord from his curse. Then the fun begins.
I was really impressed with Shadowcursed. When a book is promoted via a gimmick, in this case a game, I’m always slightly leary. Is the gimmick there as a valid marketing technique, or is it trying to prop up a substandard work. In this case it is simply marketing. Shadowcursed could easily stand on it’s own. In fact my only complaint is that the story is not longer. Another complaint I quickly manufactured was that Shadowcursed is Fleisher’s only work. On his blog there is no mention of anything but his work on further games. Hopefully they come with additional books.
In terms of mechanics I have very few complaints. There are a few too many times where the action starts with Bolen waking up; I think it’s a bit cliche at this point. We could have explored a little more of the Mad Lord’s rise and fall from sanity. There are some scenes with him later in the novella that could handle his madness better. I wish he had done better work on the cover, it seems rather armature and there’s such potential for a really compelling cover. Still, these are minor quibbles, and more personal preference than hard and fast things done wrong. The prose is good, if nothing spectacular, and the story structure is done very well.
I highly recommend that you check out Shadowcursed. It will only take you an hour or two to read, but the payoff is great. I also hope that Fleisher comes back to writing, I would buy anything else he writes in an instant.