Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s Council of Shadows

Posted May 23, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: S.M. Stirling’s Council of Shadows

Council of Shadows


S.M. Stirling

horror, urban fantasy that was published by ROC on May 3, 2011 and has 384 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include A Taint in the Blood, Shadows of Falling Night, Dangerous Women, Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, The High King of Montival, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth

Second in the Shadowspawn urban fantasy series revolving around an unexpected couple who intend to save the world.

My Take

A terrifying world in which the monsters are the true rulers of our world, and they intend to come out into the light.

This particular story is a bridge as Ellen acclimates to her new world and to understanding it! Together, Adrian and Ellen set things in motion to figure out the power including how to stop it, change it, or better use it, believing that Adrienne is dead.

Whoa, Adrian’s idea of training is…intense. And yet extremely practical. You do have to know what it will feel like so you don’t freeze up at a critical moment. Still, ick. Another scary consideration is that Adrian is good at small group tactics while Adrienne was better at large-scale planning.

Oh, too funny! See if you can spot the Piers Anthony reference…! I do enjoy Stirling’s Star Trek and James Bond references.

It’s interesting to see how Stirling manipulates history to support his version of the world. And the “real” reason our world leaders age so quickly once they get in office. Makes ya wonder… We also get more of Adrian’s back history and his being with Harvey. The old nature versus nurture argument.

Oh, they do eat well in these stories…

The humanitarian in me says I should feel bad about the terrorists, but, hey, they’re terrorists… And Ellen is learning how hard it can be to fight the bad guys. How much of a bad guy she’ll have to be. For a fantastical tale, there’s a lot of home truth in this.

Curious, Stirling is providing a background on Cheba. Must mean she has a part to play in this.

Gawd, it’s so incredibly creepy to listen to Adrian’s grandparents talk about Adrian and Adrienne’s childhood, how casually and kids will be kids they are about the horrible things they did. Stirling is brilliant at how consistent he is in portraying them.

Hmm, if you’re a survivalist, you may like reading about Adrian’s house in Santa Fe. Very cleverly situated and set up for…well, anything.

Gawd, listening to Tiffany — a renfield waitress at a coffee shop at Rancho Sangre! — talk about humans as meat sacks and having no concept of humanity, anticipating the fun of the Shadowspawn taking over the world…yuck… Seriously creepy. Then Tiffany gets off on how hurtful her little sister Jilly’s initiation is… “Sweet”, little Tiffany would be one of the first on my hit list…

The Story

It takes up from their honeymoon and hints at the training Ellen is undergoing. It’s work, more work than Ellen could imagine with danger coming at them from all sides. Yet, it will be survivable because at least Adrienne is dead.

The Characters

Ellen Tarnowski Brézé fell in love with a Shadowspawn and paid a price for it when she was kidnapped by his twin sister in A Taint in the Blood, 1. The life she has now is not one which anyone with a BA in Art History could have ever conceived.

Adrian Brézé is a Shadowspawn trying to do right. One of those rights is marrying Ellen and training her to survive in his world. His creature is a Smilodon populator, a sabertooth tiger.

Harvey Ledbetter, a 27 and a field team leader for the Brotherhood, is an old friend and partner of Adrian’s. It seems that Harvey has his own plans aside from Adrian, and he’s leading his own rebellion. Anjali Guha and Jack Farmer are Brotherhood and part of Harvey’s splinter group.

Professor Duquesne is a physicist who comes too quickly to the bad guys’ attention; he will administer the Aegis Project. Herr Müller is Adrian’s financial manager; Frau Saraçoğlu is his efficient assistant.

Shadowspawn and their people
Great-uncle Arnaud would be better if he no longer existed on this earth. Adrian’s grandfather, Étienne-Maurice Brézé, a diabolist, murderer, genius, born heir to the Duc de Beauloup, and Grand-master of the Order of the Black Dawn and the Council of Shadows, is very accepting of Adrian’s killing his twin sister. His grandmother, Seraphine, is, as Adrian puts it, “only marginally less dangerous”.

Adrienne Brézé is Adrian’s telepathic, psychopathic twin sister. Where he struggles to retain his goodness, Adrienne wallows in the pain and suffering of others, doing her best to make it worse. Leila and Leon are her twin children, and Adrian is their father. Jules and Julianne Brézé are Adrian and Adrienne’s body-dead parents and quite pleased about Hajimie’s fate (see A Taint in the Blood). They’re holding down the fort at Rancho Sangre.

Adrienne’s people at Rancho Sangre — her lucies and renfields
Eusebia “Cheba” Cortines was lucky enough to survive the party, but not enough to win free of the compound. She has her own plans in place, if she can change her attitude. Jose Villegas is Theresa’s cousin and quite happy about his impending release. Happy enough to try and help Cheba. Dr. Peter Boase, formerly a scientist with too many questions, is a time bomb allowed to escape. Monica Darton has two children, Josh and Sophie, and, strangely, is looking forward to having her soul eaten. Dr. Fiona Duggan chose the renfield life. It was that or die. David Cheung is a lucy as well as a guard and enforcer. Theresa Villegas is a renfield, Adrienne’s household manager; generations of her family have served Adrienne. The sadistically murderous Captain Harold Bates is a Gurkha and in charge of Brézé Enterprises’ site security forces. Jamal seems to have had a name change to Jabar. Somebody watching too much Disney?? Then there’s Thomas Kenworth, the assistant household manager. He screws up bigtime. Not his fault, but that’s not how Adrienne will see it, I’m sure.

Tōkairin Michiko and her husband Ichirō now lead the Tōkairin clan with her grandfather’s death. Dimitri Usov has shown on Adrienne’s side at the Prayer for Long Life Party; his shifted form is as a silverback gorilla. Dale Shadowblade is the Council assassin and his form is a wolf. The al-Lanarkis are another clan.

Back in Santa Fe
Giselle Demarcio runs Hans and Demarcio, an art gallery in Santa Fe where Ellen used to work. Detectives Eric Salvador, still battling his demons from war, and Cesar are investigating Ellen’s disappearance and the arson at Ellen’s apartment building.

Noémi Lasalle is something of a caretaker at Adrian’s apartment in Paris.

José Figurerez, a.k.a., Dhul Fiqar, is about to find out just how big of a dupe he and his people were.

The Council of Shadows is Shadowspawn, immortals who require blood to survive and can’t step into the light of day or tolerate silver. They all have a talent for magic and prefer blood that’s been “stimulated”. They can also shapeshift into any DNA they can swallow. And they are the true masters of the world. The Order of the Black Dawn recognized what they were and have been manipulating their genes and training in the use of their magic. Their idea of missionaries is sending Shadowspawn out to find more of their kind. Mhabrogast is the language spoken in Hell. A renfield is a human who voluntarily chose to serve the Shadowspawn, while a lucy is involuntary and simply used for blood. The Alberman Scale is a test for nocturnus genes, a test of power levels in humans; you have to rate a 25 or better to consciously use the power. Wreaking is what they call magic. The Brotherhood evolved to battle the Order, witchfinders.

There are two versions of Operation Trimback: the first will release an EMP pulse and destroy us while the second will unleash smallpox — to trim back the overwhelming numbers of humans.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a pastelish (the medium, not the colors) looking Euro-trash effect with Ellen in a sleeveless form-fitting dress standing in the background next to a hot, hot car as Adrian in button-down shirt and blazer evaluates his surroundings. The backdrop is a European city with old buildings almost forming up around a square.

The title is Adrian and Ellen’s target, The Council of Shadows.