First of all, the story is a fun romp written from an entirely original point of view – that of the arch-villain. It’s an engagingly funny tale of a human man turned god who runs one of the many realms of the multiverse and has created a very lucrative business of teaching the baddies from other realms how to be better villains. Between familial woes, unruly underlings and a job gone wrong, the self-proclaimed Shadow Master is thrust into an adventure he never wanted to take, but uses his cunning and villainous know-how to enlist an unlikely band of fantasy realm heroes to help him try to defeat his foes.
The laugh-out-loud-shoot-coffee-out-of-your-nose hilarious story is a little too bawdy for younger ears (but appropriate to the story and done for very good comic effect) and literally calls out the typical storytelling tropes that fantasy writers all seem to use to facilitate their stories. The best part is that M.K. Gibson uses those tropes to the Shadow Master’s advantage and lets the readers in on the jokes by breaking the fourth wall…and sometimes creating a fifth wall, to break! The author even contemplates killing off a character based on whether or not it would be beneficial in getting the fans to petition for a sequel. Humorous pop culture and fantasy writing references abound.
The cast of characters are wonderfully stereotypical heroes/adventurers straight from your favorite fantasy books, Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, and fantasy films and television shows. It sounds like that would be a bad thing, but not in this case. They have to be stereotypical for the premise of the story to work. And work it does!
I was pleasantly surprised by the narration. I thoroughly enjoyed Jeffrey Kafer’s performance. The story is written in first-person from the Shadow Master’s point of view and Kafer uses the perfect amount of braggadocious snark to sound just as you would expect an all-knowing arch-villain to sound. You can almost picture the impatient eye rolling at minions and eyebrow waggling and fingertip dancing during the inevitable villainous soliloquies. The performance walked the tightrope of almost over the top but never quite going there. It was perfect for the story.
If you’re looking for a fun, engaging listen, I would highly recommend Villains Rule and am petitioning for a sequel, or five! I love the universe and am eagerly awaiting more stories of the Shadow Master! It’s nearly a 5-star story…I give it 4.75 stars.
This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.