From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Book Review: Shadow Magic by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett

Shadow Magic is the sequel to 2008’s Havemercy, the debut novel from Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. Now, I will not be able to talk at all about how Shadow Magic compares to Havemercy, if it shares any characters, whether readers of Havemercy will be satisfied with Shadow Magic, how it stands up to Havemercy, or discuss in any shape or form how it relates to Havemercy. My confession: I haven’t read it. The real test here is whether or not Shadow Magic stands on its own as a novel and can tell a story that does not require prior knowledge of another book.

The war is over. The Kingdom of Volstov have defeated the Ke-Han Empire. Presumably the war was a major feature of the first book. Doesn’t matter. Shadow Magic begins with an ending. The novel begins in the Ke-Han capital immediately following the suicide of the Emperor. His older son Iseul assumes the throne and the younger son, Mamoru, prepares to do what he can to support his beloved older brother. The Volstovi send a delegation to negotiate a proper peace treaty with the Ke-Han emperor, a delegation which features a strange blend of magicians and soldiers.

The story of Shadow Magic is told through four viewpoint perspectives, two from Volstov side and two from Ke-Han. This makes an interesting blend of perspective and allows both sides to be humanized. It is my understanding that Havemercy was told primarily from the perspective of the Volstov, so this may be the first glimpse into the world of Ke-Han for fans of the first novel. Then again, maybe not.

From the Volstov side, readers are introduced to Caius Greylace and General Alcibiades. These two characters are about as opposite as can be, and they hold fairly closely to a near caricature for most of the novel. Alcibiades is a soldier, gruff and blunt, with no feel for or interest in political or diplomatic games. Because the reader can see through the first person perspective of Alcibiades, the character never devolves into oafishness, but he does deliberately insult the Ke-Han because he is Volstov and part of the victorious army. Caius is presented as a somewhat foppish diplomat, one who seeks to charm by being outlandish and copying the fashions of the Ke-Han. Caius takes it upon himself to befriend Alcibiades, no matter the wishes of the weary soldier. As foppish as Caius comes across, he also has an air of being dangerous. This is perhaps because through Alcibiades we learn that Caius is considered slightly crazy and that he was an assassin for the King. Caius comes across as more capable and aware than he may otherwise seem.

The Ke-Han perspective is the new Emperor’s brother Mamoru and his personal servant / retainer, Kouje. Very early on in the novel Emperor Iseul claims Mamoru is a traitor to Ke-Han and sentences Mamoru to death. There was no plot of treason, and Kouje himself betrays his loyalty to Ke-Han when he helps Mamoru escape the city and avoid capture. That’s about it. Jones and Bennett present what can be considered the usual hijinks of a master and servant escaping detection: role reversal, the master pretending to be a woman, culture clash with some of the common people, etc. It is an aspect to the novel which is important only because it provides a key part of the resolution, but that resolution is a weak one.

The ending to Shadow Magic is a bit rushed, at least in regards the resolution of Mamoru’s storyline. The Volstov perspectives unfold at a more natural pace as they learn about the Ke-Han, work through the diplomatic process, discover a potential plot, see the increasing madness of Iseul, and work towards a resolution. Mamoru, on the other hand, spends the entire novel on the run until he meets up with…a certain group of people that would be a major spoiler to discuss…and whoops, really quick push to the end and the novel is over. Seriously, it comes across as that quick and forced.

The rushed ending is a major flaw in an otherwise fairly satisfying novel. Shadow Magic is all about character and Jones and Bennett do a good job with creating characters interesting enough to wish to spend 400 pages with. The Ke-Han characters are quite a bit less interesting and compelling than the antics of the Volstovi, cartoonish as Alcibiades and Caius can be.

One other thing which can yank a reader out of a novel, a fantasy novel in particular, is a name. There are references to “The Basquiat” and “Antoinette” on the Volstov side, and those are words that have very clear reference points in the real world – perhaps these would not jar as much with a background in Havemercy, but here in Shadow Magic they jump out and slap the reader around. Antoinette may be a fairly common name with a European background, but it also screams out Marie Antoinette. Perhaps it should, but it is jarring. Basquiat, also. This is not to say that writers should not use such names, but the selection should be very careful and done for effect. In this case, in Shadow Magic, those two names were distractions each and every time they appeared on the page.

Shadow Magic is an entertaining novel, if a bit lightweight. It provides the clash of two cultures (though, two cultures which seem very European and very Japanese in their clashing), quality sword fights, and a handful of characters readers would wish to spend some time with. There characters are well written, if a bit obvious in their mannerisms. Shadow Magic is, ultimately, a fun novel to spend time with.

Happily, Shadow Magic is also a novel that works without any background in the events of Havemercy. It is part of a series, but it stands alone. For that, at least, Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett should be commended.

Shadow Magic
Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Spectra: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-553-90675-2

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