Overview (No Spoilers): I was first introduced to Shaw’s writing when her novel, Last Memoria, reached the finals of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Having enjoyed the unique magical system and quick pacing of Last Memoria, I was eagerly looking forward to finding out what Shaw would have in store for readers in Sacaran Nights. Shaw doesn’t disappoint as she creates a delightfully novel literary world that piques your imagination at every bend. She has developed a world in which the people of Sacara have evolved to the point they are isolated and unable to leave their mountain valley lest they perish in the full sun. The setting is limited to this single city, though due to the extreme living conditions the resulting ecosystem and society is fascinating and contains more than enough intrigue to keep the reader hooked.
This story follows the story of Dagner Galenn who has served in the role of both spare and heir after his brother encounters a tragic accident in their youth. With the passing of his father, Dagner is struggling to decide if he must give up his dreams or take up the mantle he has been trained for since becoming the heir of the family. Shaw soon turns all these well laid plans on their head, leaving Dagner to cope as one secret after another crumbles the lies that the foundation of his life had been built upon. This disruption to to the Galenn household provides ample fodder for the reader as the literary world exponentially expands with each subsequent disaster for Dagner.
Heading each chapter is the description of a unique fungus and its properties. These highlighted fungus often comes into play in the following chapter, which leads to some fairly predictable plot twists. That said, the imagination employed by Shaw to create this level of detailed worldbuilding brings this eccentric city to life.
The traditions and culture within this city were another aspect that I found fascinating in Sacaran Nights. In the affluent Upper Sacara the aristocrats are defined by being able to trace their lineage back generations upon generations. These ancestors can literally be traced back through a process where masks made from the skin of the deceased and the living then wear the preserved masks at all times. Sounds morbid right? Shaw somehow twists this seemingly cringey social status into a sacred honor, especially when a form of immortality is linked to the process. If, in death, one is preserved in this fashion, you are able to can stay among the living as a ghost or Shade. This process allows the current heirs to convene with the ancestors and hopefully learn from their experiences. If you are not made into a deathmask, your essence is lost forever, which is the typical fate for spares, servants, or those individuals of the Lower Sacara. There are strict rules as to who can be preserved, ultimately serving to heighten the intrigue and plotting. Along with the post death ceremony, there are other unusual norms with regard to the roles and fates of heirs and spares, but I won’t go into further details or specifics here in this review but needless to say, Shaw put significant effort into making this society as distinctive as possible.
Overall, Shaw introduces a fascinatingly odd literary world chock full of unique details regarding all aspects of worldbuilding, ranging from culture to flora, and when paired with a fast paced family drama that morphs into a plot with larger implications it turns Sacaran Nights into a book that’s hard to put down.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Did Dagner’s father know that Tytus was still alive?
- Can Merany be saved from being a masque?
- Perhaps the families should keep all their deathmasks in one location to prevent one whole line from being wiped out? What happens if a house burns down? Why don’t families plot to steal or destroy each other’s masks?
- Such an interesting twist that The Vestige was a mask? So without a masque in that role is the art of talking to the dead lost?
- Dagner totally doesn’t give Revana enough credit!
- The stealing of the Flowers of Mourning went poorly. Did Dagner and Tytus destroy all of them and will the ones they were going to steal die before being transplanted?
- Poor Tytus! His death was so unexpected, especially as he and Dagner had just reconnected.
- What is Corenn’s endgame?
- Will Merany and Dagner find their way out of Sacara? What about the mess than Dagner left his city in?
- Will Rast and Hegg survive?
- Will Bellion show up again in the story?
- I enjoyed how Shaw employed the role of rot in Sacaran Nights. It was always pushing into places it shouldn’t and constantly corrupting, unless actively maintained against. It was a constantly looming threat to the status quo.