Monday, September 6, 2010

Review of Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic is a loose sequel to Havemercy, the debut novel for Danielle Bennett and Jaida Jones. In June a third book, Dragon Soul, was released in hardcover. Dragon Soul continues the story of Thom and Rook from Havemercy, and also introduces two new characters.

Even though Shadow Magic takes place after Havemercy, it could work as a stand alone book. It does give away what happens with the conflict between two nations for the previous book though, so those who like to avoid any spoilers at all may want to avoid reading it first. However, I would have had no problem with starting with Shadow Magic and then reading Havemercy - it follows a completely different set of characters and these books are more enjoyable for reading about how developments unfold than what exactly unfolds.

Please note that if you are one of those people who do not want to know any details at all about the end of Havemercy, mentioning them is difficult to avoid when discussing this book so you will not want to read the rest of this review. If you are curious about these books but do not want to read this review, there is a review of Havemercy you can read instead.

The war between Volstov and Xi'an has come to an end. On the seventh hour of the seventh day of observing the loss of the war, the Ke-Han emperor traditionally committed suicide to atone for their national defeat, leaving behind his two sons. Iseul, the older son, must follow in his father's footsteps by either ceremonially ending his life or assuming the role of Emperor for himself. He chooses the latter, so he and Prince Mamoru prepare to discuss peace with the delegation from Volstov - who arrive sooner than expected on the day of their father's death.

The Esar of Volstov has sent nine delegates to Xi'an, mainly composed of magicians with a few soldiers thrown in for good measure. The members of the envoy become uneasy when Emperor Iseul declares his more personable brother as guilty of treason, and the prince goes into hiding. As the proceedings continue with very little progress made and they begin to see glimpses of a darker side to Iseul, the Volstovics become increasingly wary of the new emperor.

Like Havemercy, Shadow Magic captured my attention from the very first page and held it throughout with its character narratives. In this novel, there are two narrators from Xi'an, the prince Mamoru and his servant Kouje, and two from Volstov, the delegates Caius and Alcibiades. After only seeing characters from Volstov in Havemercy, the inclusion of two of the Ke-Han with a broader, more sympathetic look at their culture and how they were affected by the war was very welcome. Mamoru and Kouje were perhaps the more easily likable of the four main protagonists with their good intentions and their story's focus on loyalty and a long-standing friendship.

However, Caius and Alicibiades were the more intriguing with their more humorous voices and propensity to get into trouble. Caius is a magician previously exiled for using his talent to wreak revenge. Alcibiades is a soldier who also has a talent but hates the fact that he has magical ability and does whatever he can to avoid using it. Their observations about each other were quite entertaining - Caius decided that he simply must be friends with Alcibiades, who thought Caius was a pest, and a crazy one at that:
One of his eyes was queerly discolored, and being looked at by him felt like you were having a conversation with two people, and both of them equally insane. [pp. 17-18]
After reading more from the perspective of Caius, it becomes clear just how apt this description is. Because of this, Caius was easily my favorite to read about - he appeared so carefree and easygoing most of the time with his main concerns focusing on fashion, gossip and breaking down the barriers Alcibiades built outside the door between their rooms. Yet he also had this love of danger coupled with the ruthless streak that lead to his infamous exile from Volstov that almost made him eerie.

There are a lot of other similarities to the preceding novel, particularly in its structure. The entire story is told from the first person perspective of four different men, one of which is another gay magician although there is no romantic involvement as in Royston's part in Havemercy. Two of these perspectives overlap as they spend a lot of time together throughout the novel, and these two paired protagonists only very occasionally actually meet up with the other two. One of these two converging storylines is more serious while the in the other hilarity ensues. Throughout the novel, most of the story is told through character interaction and the observations of the various narrators, but at the end there is a lot of action and it concludes in a rush.

In spite of these parallels, it does not feel at all like a rehash of Havemercy. For one thing, it almost entirely takes place in the Japanese-influenced country of Xi'an instead of Volstov. Now that the war is over, there's an absence of the metal dragons and the conflict is completely different since it is not Volstov vs. Xi'an. Also, each of the characters is very different from the previous ones. Alicibiades may seem a little similar to Rook since he doesn't tend to care about social niceties, but he also was not nearly as obnoxious and was more understandable. He didn't want to just gladly accept the people who almost managed to conquer his nation, and as a soldier in the war he was a lot closer to the situation than most of the delegates.

Although I really enjoyed reading Shadow Magic, I did feel that it had a weak point in the character of Iseul. Iseul seemed to be purely evil with no real motive beyond being born innately villainous, plus his particular brand of evil made him seem rather stupid. He turned against his own brother, a compassionate young man who never gave him any reason to do so. Plus the people of Ke-Han loved Mamoru, who did his best to make sure they were taken care of during the war, and no one who had ever met him was going to believe he was truly guilty of treason. It didn't even ring true to the delegates from Volstov who spent merely one evening in his presence. He seemed to have no beneficial reason in the long term to act the way he did, although I suppose he had no concept of ideas such as being held in high regard for virtues such as kindness.

Also, I felt that Mamoru and Kouje's story dragged at times. While I liked both of them and enjoyed reading their tale of loyalty and friendship, I much preferred reading about Caius and Alcibiades, who were so much fun to read about, especially when it concerned each man's reactions to the other.

Even so, Shadow Magic was very readable with plenty of strengths. Its often humorous narrative told from the perspective of four very different and likable protagonists kept me turning the pages, and I also enjoyed getting to learn more about the Ke-Han. I'll definitely be reading more by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series:
Other Reviews:


Memory said...

Caius was my favourite, too. His segments often had me in stitches.

Kristen said...

Memory - Caius was hilarious. I am really hoping he makes an appearance in a future novel.

Alcibiades was great, too, but partially because it was just so fun to read about Caius from his perspective. I couldn't help but love Caius but also pity Alicibiades for having to put up with his antics.

orannia said...

One of his eyes was queerly discolored, and being looked at by him felt like you were having a conversation with two people, and both of them equally insane.

Caius was brilliant...and completely insane! I kept feeling like his insanity was...deliberate. There is far more too him than met the eye :) And he so needled Alcibiades! I to am keeping my fingers crossed he is in the third book!

And I agree - Mamoru and Kouje's story dragged...and Isuel was EVIL!

Kristen said...

Orannia - Caius did seem a bit too deliberate, like he was just trying to throw everyone around him off guard. He was great, though!

Caius is not in the third book, but Thom and Rook are. The other two main characters are new.