If you like to read fantasy novels rooted in both mythology and which have a strong allegorical subtext, then Shadows of Ghosts by Stefan Haucke is a book you’ll want to add to your reading lists. It’s a novel about rumours of war that lead up to an actual Civil War, about the enslaved race of centaurs, and the powerful friendship which develops between two somewhat unlikely friends, a prince and the son of a man who has pro-slavery views and who believes that the centaurs are nothing but mere animals, albeit sometimes clever ones.
Shadows of Ghosts begins with a chapter titled “Midnight Escape.” Cal Lanshire, the pre-teen male protagonist of the book, gets spirited away from the castle where he’s been living with his father, the king of Enora, so that he will be safe during a brewing Civil War that has been developing between the territories and political faction of the kingdom that favor the slavery of the centaurs and the anti-slavery territories.
Cal’s mother has passed away several years ago, and he has been raised by his father and servants. Now, he is forced into an exile that is supposed to be temporary, but has been extended by the fierce fighting on both sides to four years — the approximate length of the Civil War between the North and South during the American Civil War.
Cal’s been away from his father, and raised by his tutor, Mr. Alden, primarily, in a town called Shua. He has only seen his father a few times, and never for long periods of time, and he has lived incognito. If people learned that he was the king’s son, they might try to kidnap and/or kill him.
While Cal is in Shua, Mr. Alden and other servants have related to the townspeople that Cal is a member of the royal family, but a distant one. This is to make it more plausible that he would have an entourage with him.
Shua is where Cal meets his friend, Mont, whose father is a member of the Congressors. The Congressors are the people who support the slavery of the centaurs. Mont is looked down upon by many of the inhabitants of Shua just because of his father’s beliefs, and the fact that his father acts in kind of a redneck way, getting drunk and beating Mont sometimes.
It’s not Mont’s fault that his father’s a member of the Congressors, but the townspeople of Shua seem to look upon him with a jaundiced eye, like he’s white trash. Cal can’t even admit to liking him, as the townspeople would then think the worse of him for it.
The Congressors think that it’s okay to own the centaurs and use them as slaves, because they look at the centaurs as being animals, since they have the body and legs of a horse. People who against using the centaurs as slaves and who say that they should have the same rights as all people, on the other hand, reason that they should because they have the head and torso of a human.
Cutting a bit to the chase, after four years, when it seems as if Cal’s father is very close to attaining victory, he is assassinated and Cal must then flee to a safer place and somehow figure out how to return to the castle and lay claim to the throne before someone else gets the chance to usurp it. He’s just 12, and can’t lay claim to the throne until he turns 13, and comes of age.
Like many pre-adolescents and adolescents, Cal has felt angry towards his father. He has perhaps more reason to feel this way then many adolescents, as he has been apart from his dad at a crucial time in his life, for many years. Now, learning that his father has died, Cal feels a sense of guilt about his previous anger towards his father, and he would like to take his anger back, but he can’t. All he can do, now, is to try to act in a way that would have made his father proud of him.
I don’t want to give away any more spoilers, so I won’t go into the plot any further, but Shadow of Ghosts is a great read for pre-teens and teens, and really, for people of all ages, because of the deeper messages it contains. Mont reminded me a bit of a Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer sort of character, and though the book can be enjoyed simply as being a finely written fantasy, it also has many parallels with the American Civil War. Cal’s father is even assassinated while — you probably have guessed it — attending a play, just like in Lincoln’s case.
Shadows of Ghosts is an entertaining fantasy, and more good news is that it’s the first book of a trilogy. The author, Stefan Haucke, has begun writing the second one already, and the title of it will be Dark Dreams Return. The author has mentioned elsewhere that the second book will focus on the relationship between Mont and Ellsben. It should be a great one, if it’s at all like Shadows of Ghosts. You can get Shadows of Ghosts at Amazon at the link below!
Written by: Douglas Cobb