Author(s): Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Page Count: 387
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Summary: Led to victory by its magic-fueled Dragon Corps, Volstov has sent a delegation to its conquered neighbors to work out the long-awaited terms of peace. Among those sent are the decorated war hero General Alcibiades and the formerly exiled magician Caius Greylace. But even this mismatched pair can’t help but notice that their defeated enemies aren’t being very cooperative.
The truth is even worse than they know. For the new emperor is harbouring a secret even more treacherous—one that will take every trick in Alcibiades’ and Caius’ extensive arsenal to unveil. And once it is revealed, they may still be powerless to stop it.
With their only ally, an exiled prince, now fleeing his brother’s assassins, the countryside rife with treachery and terror, and Alcibiades and Caius all but prisoners, it will take the most powerful, most dangerous kind of magic to heal the rift between two strife-worn lands and unite two peoples against a common enemy… shadow magic.
- Summary from the bookflap.
The Skinny: A luscious, incredible fantasy world brought to life through the amazingly talented Jones and Bennett team. Our heroes will make you laugh, cry, and just care as they go through the turbulent times in post-war Ke-Han. Highly recommended, especially to those fantasy fans looking for something slightly different.
Setting: This rich fantasy world blew me away. It’s the next best thing about this book besides its colourful cast. Jones and Bennett drew heavily on Japanese mythology and culture to create a very strong East Asian fantasy world, and they do this with delicacy and grace. Their research was through and it really shows through this novel, and I really appreciated the way in which Jones and Bennett gave us an insight into this world. They told it from generally two perspectives: one from the delegates as tourists of the capital city, and the other from those born and raised in the Ke-Han nation going from city life to the countryside. This way, we get a diverse viewpoint that adds to our experience in fully envisioning this world.
Story/Prose/Style/Voice: Our four narrators to our story are excellent. Their interactions and perspectives on the events around them really captivate the readers. Particularly Alcibiades and Caius, our accidental tourists before shit really hits the fan. The laugh-out-loud moments in these two’s adventure really brings a spark and an excitement into this story. This is balanced out by the more serious side of Mamoru and Kouje’s story, the exiled prince and his guard, escaping the emperor’s clutches and trying to save their nation. They give us the heart rendering side to the story, where we get a more personal, intimate look at the lives of the Ke-Han common citizens. The two stories intertwined gives us a fuller experience than they ever would have been if they had be separated. I found the voices of our four narrators fairly distinct and sympathetic, which is quite the feat considering Jones and Bennett is telling this story from four first person point-of-views. And this is only their second novel! The style of the prose is very accessible and fluid, making an already very wonderful story an even more pleasant experience
Characters: Now, as much as I love our four darling protagonists, there are some problems with the characterizations of the cast in this novel. Yes, Kouje, Mamoru, Caius and Alcibiades’ characters are very strong, consistent and come out to life, but I found the characterization of the villain and the supporting cast ended up suffering. We never really understand our villainous Emperor Iseul. In fact, we were mostly led to think that he does what he does because he’s just a ruthless person with a psychotic streak. (I personally thought the psychosis thing with Iseul and, indeed, even Caius, could have been fleshed out and explored a bit more, but now this is just me going off on a tangent.) I’m not asking for our villain to be sympathetic, only that his motives and purpose of his actions made clearer to us readers. The supporting cast suffer from a lack of consistency, like Lord Temur for example, and I found that those who don’t interact in a major way with our protagonists end up fading in the background to the point where we readers can easily forget their existence. More attention and care in detail given to the cast outside of our heroes would have been appreciated. Another thing worth pointing out: our protagonists are very much male, upper class, and able-bodied, etc. I believe some diversity *coughwomecough* in who Jones and Bennett chose to tell the story would have added greatly to the richness of the tale being told.
(Wow, that came out kind of harsh, didn’t it? I actually think our four protagonists have some of the strongest characterization of our heroes’ thoughts and motives I’ve seen in fiction. And I love every four of them to bits and pieces. It’s just that the difference between our leads and the rest of the cast is such a striking gap that I can’t help but remark about it. I critique not because I hate, but because I love the story and wish for it to do better. =D)
Plot: Ah, the plot. I’ve read Jones and Bennett’s previous work Havemercy and this plot aspect is easily a big improvement from their first book. But, that being said, I still felt that, once again, the plot is still rather weak. I believe it’s not because there isn’t any substance in the plot, but rather the plot suffers from poor pacing. =/ It was mostly up to Mamoru and Kouje’s story to keep the plot direction moving, and the climax was extremely rushed. As much as I love Alcibiades and Caius, if I look back they don’t quite contribute to the plot of the story very much until the very end, and even that is debatable on Caius’ end. This weakness wasn’t a detriment to my personal enjoyment of our story, but it’s worth noting for readers who care very much for a tightly-knitted plot with consistent action, and so on and so forth.
Overall: I love, love this book. The fantasy world is one of my favourites I came across this year, (if not my UTMOST favourite) and I love Jones and Bennett’s storytelling style. It’s fun and poignant and beautiful, and a highly enjoyable adventure. I personally couldn’t put the book down when I was reading it. Sure it has its weaknesses, but I believe if one looks past them they will find at the heart of this book a highly engaging and engrossing tale. For fantasy readers looking for a well developed world that’s not the usual, typical pseudo-medieval European fantasy worlds
Enjoyment: 100% ♥
Title and Cover Discussion: I found our cover and title very disappointing, especially since Havemercy did an excellent job on this department. I believe our cover artist tried to carry on the whole mechanical dragons’ motif of Havemercy into this cover, and it just didn’t work. There was no dagger in the entire Shadow Magic novel that had such a dragon design on it, and the green surrounding the brown just looks generic. The only interesting bit about this cover is the part on the bottom left, where if we look past the leaves we can see the infrastructure of the Xi’an palace. But it’s so small and fading into the cover background that no one would really notice unless you look for it. Even the title Shadow Magic screams out generic run-in-the-mill fantasy to me, even though this story is anything but. Also, I don’t believe the exact words “shadow magic” was ever used in this novel? There was a type of dark magic introduced later in the novel, but I don’t believe it was ever called “shadow magic”. (I’m not too sure about this, so correct me if I’m wrong). Honestly, if I didn’t already love Jones and Bennett, I’m not sure if I would have picked this book up on the basis of cover and title alone. =/