What Casts the Shadow? (The Edge of the Known Book 1) by Seth Mullins is an introspective novel about Brandon Crane, a metal musician with a lot of hope for the future, but facing demons and darkness he must overcome. His band “Edge of the Known” are forging ahead, but Brandon’s negative thoughts, spurred on by an abusive father, threatens to make everything come crashing down, as the violent part of him is threatening to overtake his life. When Brandon meets a wise mentor, Saul, he might finally be able to put his life together.
What makes What Casts the Shadow? work is not just the strength of Brandon’s voice, but his personal promise. He’s got big ideas about what he wants to accomplish in his life – not just to be in a “successful” band, but to truly reinvent music and make people think differently about life. The band’s name “Edge of the Known” is illustrative. Brandon wants to delve into the limits of human knowledge and experience. That this sort of ambition takes him into dark places is core to his struggle. Brandon is dark because he’s also very bright.
The root of Brandon’s personal philosophy is illuminating and inspiring, which makes his turn to the dark more arresting, and makes the reader want him to come out on the other side. However, Brandon isn’t the only force at work in this story. Though he’s the central protagonist, it’s the character of Saul who brings real shape to the story. Brandon himself is kind of a mess, being torn in two opposite directions, and Saul is the one who has a calm sense of objectivity about what Brandon can accomplish, as well as illuminating ideas about life itself.
In a way Brandon is just the springboard for Saul’s inspiring pontifications about life, and if the book might seem frenetic before his arrival, it becomes more driven after he enters the book, as Brandon does himself. What that means is that your heavily invested in Brandon’s life and mind, as the tenor of the entire book takes on a different flavor once Brandon gets on a better track.
Though the narrative voice is lively and affecting, there are moments of weakness where Mullins quickly glosses over a moment that requires more detail. For instance, his sister is introduced by just her name, and we only find out later who exactly that person is. This may seem like a minor quibble, but it happens frequently enough where it seems more like an oversight than by design. Additionally, the narrative does delve into “show don’t tell” at times, and some mood and detail repeat what has come before.
Given that the book is about a metalhead, and one who’s plagued by dark thoughts, a lot more could have been done with the cover – especially with the font of the title, which begs for a metal-esque sort of writing, without being overly ironic. This is a book about music-making at its core, and that’s nowhere near on display here. It’s not a badly designed cover, exactly, just not for this particular novel. So that’s the weakest part of the book.
Make no mistake though that Brandon has an extremely strong voice, and it eclipses these weaknesses. For anyone who’s struggled with dark thoughts, or really anyone who’s started a creative endeavor and felt the pull of self-doubt, What Casts the Shadow? is at once philosophical and recognizable and may just change how you think about life.
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