A #WyrdAndWonder Book Review | Exploring Dark Fantasy within “The Shadow of the Skytree” by K.J. Taylor

Posted Monday, 9 May, 2022 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Gifted Book By: This novel “The Shadow of the Skytree” was part of a gifted #bookhaul of mine from my Mum and Dad for #WyrdAndWonder, Year 4! They happily surprised me with a lovely bundle of books I featured during Wyrd And Wonder Year 3 celebrating the Indie Publisher Odyssey Books! This continues my readings of those novels as I was overjoyed I can read all the lovely stories I had either showcased and/or featured but wasn’t able to read during our Year 3 Wyrd And Wonder.

Thereby, I was gifted a copy of “The Shadow of the Skytree” by my parents and I was not obligated to post a review on its behalf. I am sharing my thoughts on behalf of this novel for my own edification and a continued journey of sharing my readerly life on Jorie Loves A Story. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

Note: I received the Press Materials last year from the publisher and had asked if I could re-use them if and when I was able to read and/or review the stories I was featuring during Wyrd And Wonder Year 3 (2020); and thankfully was given permission to do so which is why I am using them during my readings this 5th Year of Wyrd And Wonder.

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

This 5th Year of Wyrd And Wonder, I am finishing my readings of the Odyssey Books Fantasy stories I showcased during our 3rd Year! Except for one of the novels which I am still trying to secure a copy of and has remained a bit elusively out of reach.

Last week I was completely absorbed into the world of Tarya within Rachel Nightingale’s Harlequin’s Riddle novel which sets the stage for her trilogy. I knew I wanted to read her trilogy back-to-back but I also wanted to read Taylor’s novel which has had me curious about how she was going to introduce us to her dwarves, elves and gnomes as well as other recognisable fantastical creatures within the pages of The Shadow of the Skytree.

Before I share my thoughts about the story, I wanted to share an excerpt from our conversation and implore you to re-visit the interview before you continue to read this review or shortly after you’ve read my reactions. All the authors I interviewed through this publisher and/or hosted with guest posts during our 3rd Year were very giving of their time and you’ll find a wealth of loveliness to read through if you go back through those showcases.

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As your novel “The Shadow of the Skytree” has both elves and dwarves inclusive to the world – how would you describe both of them to a first-time reader who hasn’t read too much Fantasy outside of Tolkien and has limited knowledge of elves and dwarves? What is uniquely different about them compared to your gnomes like Lavendar?

Taylor responds: Speaking of avoiding tropes, one I was particularly tired of is elves written in imitation of Tolkien but with all the flaws removed so you end up with an obnoxiously perfect race of superbeings who are the best at everything. I wanted to explore the idea of what a functionally immortal people would more realistically be like, and especially when they’re so cut off from the rest of the world. Which is why my elves are hunter-gatherers with no technology. Their magic means they never needed to develop any, and their longevity makes them so slow to change that they found themselves incapable of adapting to a world that was changing around them and became insular and extremely xenophobic. And I gave them a darker skin tone because you’d realistically expect a race of people who spend their lives mostly outdoors to have adapted accordingly.

As for the dwarves, I won’t lie – I partly designed them for the sheer coolness factor. Stereotypical dwarves live underground and spend most of their time mining, and I thought – well, what if they were so well adapted to living among minerals that they could literally live off the stuff? They’re pretty much living humanoid versions of the volcano they call home – black on the outside, full of fire on the inside. So it made sense that they’d live off a diet of mostly charcoal; if they don’t keep that internal fire fuelled, they die. And they ride on giant lizards because that’s just metal as hell. (Well, and big reptiles would be attracted to hot places. Horses would quickly sicken and die if they had to live in a volcanic environment with no grass).

Meanwhile the gnomes are naturally underground dwellers who are very in touch with the natural world, but are naturally childlike and simple-minded compared to everyone else. Your average gnome doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and can’t really comprehend wanting to hurt anyone, which is why our heroine, Vender, finds the whole conflict going on around her so bewildering. Why can’t people just say sorry and learn to get along?

I love when I find authors re-invent a creature or species other authors have made famous – either to redirect us onto a different path of understanding them or to entreat into a different viewing of them entirely as a race. As like you said, without flaws and without a way of showing growth – the context of those species can become stagnant and predictable. I could also see why you patterned their beliefs and behaviours as you had – as they were definitely a more exclusive race and have kept to themselves in order to survive. I oft wondered about skin tones – sometimes I read a story (Fantasy or otherwise) and know a character is predominately outside – yet, it is not reflected in their character’s profile or disclosed in their story. Even a heavy tan would make better sense than to give the illusion anyone can spend copious amounts of time in direct sunlight without any affect of that kind of exposure to them.

I had to laugh – about why lizards won out over horses. The laughter was sparked because of how true of a statement this is – and how some might have overlooked its importance! Besides anytime you can use a different animal for a species transportation that is outside the box is one I’m going to enjoy getting introduced too! I also had to smirk about the dwarves diet and why they are attracted to volcanoes! They can definitely have that environment – I live where there is volcanic heat (sans the volcano) and humidity – I melt yearly and hope to live elsewhere eventually. This clime doesn’t work for some but I could see a family of dwarves settling into it as if they found the best ‘vacation’ spot of their kin!

I agree with your assessment about gnomes. Mind, to this day, the only route of understanding them was a children’s programme on tv called “David the Gnome” (does anyone remember that one?) I oft felt they were the innocents of their world and had a very positive outlook on everything round them as well.

-quoted from my interview K.J. Taylor

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A #WyrdAndWonder Book Review | Exploring Dark Fantasy within “The Shadow of the Skytree” by K.J. TaylorThe Shadow of the Skytree
by K.J. Taylor
Source: Gifted

The reserved elf Lyell Blackfletch is an ambassador for his people – and the holder of a dark secret. Plague is spreading among the human race, with the fire-loving dwarves already driven to the edge of extinction. Only the human Fiorella is close to finding a cure for the sickness, and with her death it is up to her friend Lavender the gnome to deliver it to her people in the steam-powered city of Vaporcitta.

Naïve but rebellious, Lavender chooses to place her trust in Lyell – but is her confidence in the cold-hearted elf misplaced? With the cure stolen and a secret genocide uncovered, they must both make a choice – but it may already be too late.

Genres: Australian Lit, Fantasy Fiction, Dark Fantasy, YA Fantasy

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781925652796

Also by this author: The Shadow of the Skytree

Published by Odyssey Books

on 25th November, 2019

Pages: 244

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Published by: Odyssey Books (@OdysseyBooks)

Converse via: #YAFantasy, #ShadowOfTheSkyTree
as well as #OdysseyBooks & #WyrdAndWonder

About K.J. Taylor

K.J. Taylor

Canberra author Katie J. Taylor attended Radford College, where she wrote her first novel. She studied for a Bachelor's Degree in Communications at the University of Canberra, and graduated in 2007 before going on to do a Graduate Certificate in Editing in 2008. She is also the author of three fantasy trilogies.

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a note about why I waited a few years to read this story:

When my parents gifted me the stories by Odyssey Books authors’ I had fully intended to read all of those stories that particular Wyrd And Wonder – until I realised a few things: time was not on my side that May to get through them and some of them, like this one felt to be a bit harder to digest as they were echoing a darker lit kind of Fantasy. Sometimes it takes me a bit to wander into the darker corridors of the genre and sometimes, of course, I find myself unable to feel completely locked into those kinds of stories altogether. Through my conversation with this author, I felt this particular novel would suit me well to explore but other times, such as when I attempted to read The Bone Shard Daughter last year I had to take a hard exit. Until of course, I started to read it and noted the parallels between this world and ours; questioning a second time if I could continue.

my review of the shadow of the skytree:

Taylor sets the stage for us to venture into this world where a quickening darkness was overtaking the land with a sinister plot against one of its species. One elf and one dwarf were our introduction into what was happening – even if at their entrance, lives had already been lost and a great mourning had begun for the tragedy which could not be prevented. In that one singular moment, you saw both sides of the conflict – one blinded by love without seeing the truth and one encouraged by love to hide the truth. It was a beginning which sets you wrong-footed into the world because you immediately feared for the sanctity of the dwarves and were furious with the elves due to the insanity of what was unfolding.

Lavender was a gnome who had befriended the human Fiorella, but what stood out to me about their friendship was how Lavendar wanted to help Fiorella learn more than what she had known before they met. This included being able to read which Fiorella enjoyed the most because it expanded her knowledge of Hylah (the name of the world). In one of her readings of a book, we were able to peer past what was unknown about their world and understand the connections of its order. The Skytree itself was the home of the elves – whilst Taylor shared a wonderful insight into how the elves had an Earthen spirituality about life and death. She followed this by showing us how Lavendar (a gnome) could communicate with other animals (ie. owls, rats) and how tender those conversations can turn once it is known there are children involved. I loved the scene underneath Fiorella’s cottage because it was such an innocent scene and one full of love for offspring.

Riding hareback sounded like a delight to me! This is one method of transportation I wish humans could experience if we were able to shrink ourselves down in size – as imagine, being astride a hare and riding off into the forest like Lavendar did herself? It wasn’t hard to feel her own exhilaration for that moment and to be wholly wicked happy for finding the item Fiorella had requested her to find. Although the moment was saddened a bit by the realisation that Lavendar’s own family doesn’t understand her and thus, doesn’t want to have a connection with her moving forward. Sadly, it was the case of a daughter who wanted to live free to explore Hylah and a family set in their ways.

When it comes to dark creatures and characters, I tend to focus on the good rather than horrific which is why when the kobolds overtook one of the characters, I choose to focus on what was still positive rather than the horrible ending which soon became apparent. The kobolds are one of those darker creatures you hope have a short existence in the story but of whom, might be in it for the long haul. Lavendar for her part was full of courage and even after tragedy was finding her own voice and purpose within the journey Fiorella had begun herself to find a cure for the plague which was wreaking havoc on Hylah.

Lavender wasn’t as privy to the world outside her own realm of Bluedell or even the orbit of innocence she enjoyed being around Fiorella who encouraged her and helped educate her on subjects which were of interest to them both. However, in the wider scheme of this world – darkness was in fast pursuit – yet, for Lavender, she only saw the good and the light; without the fears of what was pursuing her without her foreknowledge as we had become apprised of ourselves as readers. Taylor tucks us close to the conspiracies of this world through Lyell and yet, he’s an ambiguously morally grey character because you truly do not understand where his loyalties lie and if push came to shove how he would act. He knows more than he lets on and he’s just devious enough to cover the truth from those who seek it most. I had an uneasy feeling about Lyell the first moment I met him on page and as Lavender began to interact with him, those instincts grew in me to realise not only could he not be trusted but I had a growing sense of alarm about the elves overall.

For one interesting thread of this story, Taylor looks into the world from an elvan standpoint which is counter to most stories I’ve read about the elves; except for one which explores their fatal flaw. To me, elves always appeared to seem superior and elite from others in their worlds – to where they felt they were a level above others and that no one could be their equal. Those murmurings echo through this narrative as well even though Taylor hasn’t fully played her hand or revealled her intentions therein in regard to the elves when your only within the first quarter of the novel – but there is enough foreshadow that the elves bode ill towards others all the same. What I questioned of course, is what exactly bothers the elves about other species? And, why do they feel those other species are so dearly inferior to them?

The elves who lived under the Skytree were ruthless as they were tainted against their own morality and sense of justice – which aptly played out when Lyell went home to confer with them about their plans of deception in this world and the sinister attack on everyone who wasn’t an elf. Yet, he learnt too late their feelings ran deep and that logic wasn’t a way to encourage them to change their minds. For their stance was deeply believed and their mission (the one he had failed) wasn’t something he could deter them from achieving; no matter what he chose to say as they afflicted pain and brutal punishment against him for failing to carry out orders. It was here where Taylor showed what the greatest evil of this world was: complete genocide. This was hinted about in the premise of the story itself but knowing it and reading about it are two very different things. For me, as the reality of that was presenting itself in the timeline of the story – I found it a hard pill to swallow and without the innocence of Lavender threading through the horrors of the elves’ plans, I might not have staid rooted into the story at all.

Part of the magic of this world relies heavily on the connection elves have with the forest and thus, the forest and the elves had a shared symbiotic relationship. The scene which showcased this best is when Lyell inspired by the suggestion of Lavender to heal thyself found a way to channel his energy and the forest in such a way that only Taylor could have envisioned. It also spoke about how the forest and the natural environment is connected to those who live on the land – pivoting to encompass a well-known fact of our own world and parlaying into why Solarpunk is striving to change hearts and minds about our ecosphere and environments being plagued and destroyed by pollution and toxic containments. Taylor had much more to say in this narrative than the inter-species war which was playing out in the background.

I reached quite far into the story before I couldn’t finish it. I had hoped it would turn round – especially with Lyell and Lavender sacrificing so much for the greater good but all was for naught or so it seemed. I reached a point where I just couldn’t return to the story – where the destruction and the violence became too much, and everything felt hopeless. Lyell himself was both a traitor and a champion; he had a duality of purpose in the story showing both sides of Light and Dark in a singular character. How you can be good but also evil at the same time and yet find redemption when you have a chance to right your wrongs. I had hoped Taylor would have built on that turning tide but as we were seeking deeper into the resolution I had hoped would be there – the worse everything had become. For me, my exit came when an innocent deer lost their life as it was one step too far for me to walk inside a story which felt oppressively draining and soul crushing.

Fly in the Ointment: Content Note:

I was managing to make it through most of this novel (almost to the last quarter of it!) as I kept trying to hold onto the Light as this was an especially darker Fantasy than most I regularly read. There was a lot of violence bubbling in the background, too. As this was a world at war but it was also showing the senseless violence which accompanies war and where diplomacy has failed. The death toll was unfathomable, but it was also the level of violence waged against every species in this world that affected me the most. No one was safe from the blade or the plague(s) and everyone alive in this world mistrusted the others to where they were all continuously fighting each other without any way forward towards peace. At which point, I had to exit the novel as it just became too much for me to deal with as it just felt oppressively dark and without hope at that point.

on the fantasical writing styling of k.j. taylor:

Despite the difficulties of processing what was happening in this world Taylor built at the beginning – by the time you get inside Fiorella’s cottage and scutter off with Lavendar, you find yourself curiously curious about the rest of Hylah! Taylor interlinked the natural world and its creatures together – wherein, there is a natural order to Hylah and there are hidden elements of connection, too. My favourite of course was finding out the gnomes can communicate with other animals in a very unique way to where they disarm fear and make genuine friends. This became a treasured part of the story for me – seeing how Lavendar could interact with different animals and how they could work together towards common goals.

As Taylor intertwined us with the conspiracy against lives in this world – as it was stemming from one particular source, she also swept us into the lives of everyone who was being affected. Including the humans of whom were struggling to connect the cause with the cure and thus, were quite defeated until Lavendar arrived with news from her friend. Taylor created a world in which you travel inside to unearth more clues towards who started the plague and what they hoped to accomplish from it. Part of me remembered a similar issue within #TheClanChronicles wherein they had an unsettling part of their history where they were equally affected by forces working against them as well.

Being this is a story about elves and knowing how elves treasure their trees and the ways in which their spirituality and religion is Earthen based; I felt it was interesting how Taylor used trees as both a symbolic gesture of their faith and resilience as well as a reverence for the dead. Of course, the more misguided elves would use that against others and what is a lifeblood of elves could be turnt into something far viler than a spiritual sanctuary. One particular scene showed how in this world – elves return back to their family’s tree and how the wood of that tree transmorphs itself to take-on the lifeforce of what is given back to the tree. However, as you can imagine – this can be used for nefarious means as much as for the original purpose it was given. And that is where you shudder with the realisation of how far the elves would go to accomplish their goals.

I found this to be a very difficult story to read and to process my thoughts about as it was a harder hitting Darker Fantasy novel than I first suspected it was originally. Although, I am glad I read it when I had – it is definitely on the upper edge of where I can go with Dark Fantasy whilst owning to the fact, I cannot read these darker stories with too much frequency because it affects me as a reader who is sensitive to what is inclusive inside these kinds of stories. I was thankful to see firsthand how Taylor wrote the story but also fully respected that there are other readers who might bode better to read this one rather than I; as again, it took me far afield of my comfort zone when it comes to the kinds of Fantasy I enjoy reading.

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Remarks about the classification of this being YA:

I am reiterating my choice to consider this a work of Upper YA Fiction rather than YA for the same reasons I did with Harlequin’s Riddle which was published by the same publisher.

I made the choice to classify this as Upper YA though for me personally it doesn’t read as a YA or Upper YA story; at least by reflection on stories I’ve read which befit either of those categories. I read this as an adult novel and series; the themes within the story are very adult and the texture of the story is adult; however, given it is referred to as being YA, the best I can offer is classifying this as Upper YA for more mature YA readers who are seeking adult themes and situations in stories like this one. For the traditional YA reader who is seeking YA without those adult thematics I would say it would be better to wait until they were ready to read this series.

Especially if you consider some of the content inclusions and warnings for those who are sensitive readers:

→ Genocide

→ Punishment and Violence against others

There are heady topics inclusive to this story – the fact that most of the story hinges on genocide and the overt violence against others for prejudicial reasons, I felt it warranted a different distinction from traditional YA stories. There was quite a bit of graphic depictions of punishment and/or violence against others – specifically, when it comes to describing what happens to flesh when it is inflicted and for those reasons as well, I felt this was better suited to Upper YA readers.

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Fantastical Elements:

→ Dwarves

→ Elves

→ Gnomes

→ Kobolds – vile menacing beasts

→ Interspecies communication (ie. owls, rats, hares, etc)

→ Steam Carriages

→ A similar magic to ‘tree-shaping’

Between the dwarves, elves and gnomes – you want to respectively distance yourself from the elves whilst you grieve with the dwarves and hope the same fate would not claim the gnomes. The transportation options in this world were wicked fascinating, too. The gnomes were very much inclusively into themselves and were not as curious as Lavender was to explore the wider world of Hylah. Although what fascinated me more was how the gnomes could speak to animals and how the animals could communicate back to the gnomes! This provided a lot of lovely fodder to chew on as we embarked on seeing a lot of different animals communicating and reciprocating favours to Lavender, of whom, grew in her appreciation for others and befriended nearly everyone she met.

Previously, I had read about tree-shaping wherein there was a particular magic which allowed someone to shape the ways in which a tree could grow or transition. (see also Review) In this instance, Taylor explored how trees and their essence can become attached to another species and how if that species is magically bent can utilise their talent and gifts within the context of what a tree can give to them as well.

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This book review is part of the #bookhaul of Fantasy novels
my parents gifted me during Year 4 of #WyrdAndWonder:

#WyrdAndWonder #bookhaul collage banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: jorielovesastory.com

Read about my #WyrdAndWonder #bookhaul!

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it.
I look forward to hearing your takeaways about this novel & the author’s guest feature. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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This book review is part of my showcases during #WyrdAndWonder: Year 5:

#WyrdAndWonder Year 5 banner created by Jorie in Canva.


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Enjoying my fantastical reviews about the worlds of Fantasy?

Ever since the beginning of Jorie Loves A Story, I have embarked on a Quest to seek out stories within the worlds of Fantasy which would heighten my awareness of the genre and give me wicked good reads – across the subniches of a genre I’ve loved since I was seventeen. Every May, I happily co-host @WyrdAndWonder – whilst throughout the months of the year, I regularly read & discuss the Fantasy reads I am discovering.

Visit my full archive for ALL my #EnterTheFantastic wanderings! As well as take a walkabout through my archives for #WyrdAndWonder – or take a walkabout through my archive for everything deemed wickedly fantastical!

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{SOURCES: Book cover for “The Shadow of the Skytree”, book synopsis, author biography and author photograph of K.J. Taylor were all provided by Odyssey Books and are used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: #WyrdAndWonder Book Review Year 5 badge, #WyrdAndWonder Year 5 banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 9 May, 2022 by jorielov in #WyrdAndWonder, Content Note, Dark Fantasy, Earthen Magic, Earthen Spirituality, Elves & the Elven, Excessive Violence in Literature, Fantasy Fiction, Fly in the Ointment, Folklore and Mythology, Horror-Lite, Indie Author, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event, Upper YA Fantasy

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