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  • Writer's picturePete Mesling

Off the Shelf: The King of Shadows

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

So Robert McCammon doesn’t write horror anymore, eh? Perhaps a reading of his latest Matthew Corbett novel, The King of Shadows, will convince you otherwise (pictures in this post are of the signed limited edition from Lividian Publications). Oh, it’s still a book about our favorite 18th-century problem-solver, fear not. But oh my, the horror along the way!

There are two lengthy backstories tucked into this novel, both involving the making of villains, and both perfectly excellent standalone novellas. It’s always interesting to me when writers provide in-depth backstories for their bad guys. It should be an obvious thing to do, but villains often get short shrift in the character-building department. Not here. In fact, so much detail is offered up about what turned these characters bad that we have to work pretty hard not to sympathize with them a bit.

But only a bit, for surely even the staunchest determinist will feel that these baddies could have chosen a different path before their moral compasses spun out of control.

And then there’s the actual plot of the novel. It’s a whopper, ladies and gentlemen, outrageous in its conception and brilliant in its execution. But it’s tricky to write about a single book in a series without giving too much away, so I’ll shy from specifics here. It would be too easy to remark on happenings of no real surprise to readers of the previous novels but that might spoil some of the mystery for those who are new to the series. I’ll only say that the book's title is a double entendre, referring to human memory on the one hand and to the eccentric ruler of the island Corbett finds himself stranded on for most of the book on the other. The link between the two meanings is no accident.

Can you believe it’s been over twenty years since Robert McCammon began Matthew Corbett’s adventures through the Carolinas, New York, and eventually England and beyond? He didn’t even know he had a series on his hands back then, and readers couldn’t have guessed what an epic saga lay before them. Yet here we are, two books away from having no more Matthew Corbett books to look forward to. We’ll get a collection of related short stories later this year, and then the final nail in the coffin at some time to be determined. The sole reason I look forward to the series’ conclusion, albeit remotely, is so I can go back and read it all over again, but the larger part of me wishes the adventures of Matthew Corbett could continue on for years to come. It’s been one hell of a ride.

For now, I'll savor the suspense of waiting for the last two books, and relish their revelations when at last they arrive. Perhaps I'll post a more extensive look at my Matthew Corbett collection once it's complete as well.

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