Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Published on April 12th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Ghosts, Middle Grade, Mystery
Format: ARC, Paperback
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Thorn, an outlaw's son, wasn't supposed to be a slave. He's been sold to Tyburn, an executioner, and they're headed to Castle Gloom in Gehenna, the land of undead, where Thorn will probably be fed to a vampire.
Lilith Shadow wasn't supposed to be ruler of Gehenna. But following the murder of her family, young Lily became the last surviving member of House Shadow, a long line of dark sorcerers. Her country is surrounded by enemies and the only way she can save it is by embracing her heritage and practicing the magic of the undead. But how can she when, as a girl, magic is forbidden to her?
Just when it looks like Lily will have to leave her home forever, Thorn arrives at Castle Gloom. A sudden death brings them together, inspires them to break the rules, and leads them to soar to new heights in this fantasy with all the sparkle and luster of a starry night sky.
Shadow Magic was a fun, dark read, and while not the most memorable, I wish I had been able to read this as a kid. I know those “fun” and “dark” don’t seem like they go together, but that’s exactly what Joshua Khan created when he wrote this book.
Enter Lily, the newly crowned ruler of Gehenna whose family was recently murdered; and Thorn, a slave-turned-squire whose way with animals will take him a long way from ordinary. Add the two of them to a warm cast of characters in Castle Gloom, and suddenly the castle becomes a lot less cold and a lot more exciting. There are equal amounts of action and character-building moments, which made the pacing very good for this book. I never felt bored, and always wanted to know what was going to come next.
The world-building in this book is probably one of its strongest points, but also one of its weakest. There’s a lot going on, and a lot to follow, but I didn’t feel that everything was hashed out when it needed to be, if it was hashed out in the first place. Khan’s world is huge, with six separate realms, three of which make an appearance in this book. Thankfully, we really only needed to pay attention to three, but the absence of the other three was a little too noticeable. The fact, also, that I had to search through the book (and am still unsure) that the Light kingdom and Herne’s Forest are the names of the two that did show up further proves that the world description could have been much better. That said, what I did get from the descriptions was really great! Gehenna especially had me hooked—from its graveyard cities to its execution hill, all the little details were so successful in making Gehenna what it is. If Khan had to sacrifice the other kingdoms so that Gehenna was described so perfectly the way it was, then I’d say it was a fair deal. It does make me wonder if Khan is planning on a sequel or another book in the same world though. You can’t just make all of these cool places and then not use them!
I loved the characters in this book. Thorn and Lily were very relatable and easy to fall in love with. They’re not the super in-depth, realistic characters I’m used to reading in YA and Adult fantasy books, but that’s what makes this book very firmly placed in Middle Grade fantasy. I appreciated that Khan didn’t try to do too much with them. A lot of the characters are pretty flat, but I didn’t feel like this was too much of a problem. Don’t get me wrong—there’s plenty of character development and twisting relationships going on—but it was still at the middle-grade level (which was good!).
One thing I didn’t like about this book was the presence (or lack thereof) of female characters. There are three. Now count how many male characters there are, and you’ll start to feel a little uncomfortable. And then there’s the whole rule where girls can’t do magic. Call me an optimist, but I was really hoping for this to be resolved among the adults as well as the kids, but we just don’t get that closure. So yes, by the end of the story, all the kids had accepted that this was an entirely unnecessary rule, but what with all the female disempowerment throughout the buildup, I didn’t read enough of the opposite by the end. This was disappointing. You have a female as one of the main protagonists of the book, who has been put into a position of incredible power, but the whole book I felt like everyone else was belittling her. While some of this was because of her youth, a lot of it was also due to her gender, and this wasn’t resolved. Somewhere in Gehenna right now, there is a way too much gender discrimination still going on, and that bothers me.
On a brighter note, the physical printed copy of this book is beautiful. I received an ARC paperback, so I’m not sure what the real one will look like, but I loved the version I got. The trim size of the ARC I received is unusual, but I now want all of my books to be this size. (Hear me, Oh Grand Publishing Houses of the World!) It’s much more comfortable to hold, and I truly hope the real copy is as physically fun to read as the ARC was. And the illustrations!! The illustrations were gorgeous! I wanted to cut them out and post them on my wall.
While we’re talking about printed things, the cover for this book is very enticing and somewhat Percy Jackson–esque, which made me want to read it all the more. I would say that this book is very easily accessible to readers of all genders (gasp!), and the cover is exciting that this would actually be a pretty good gift for those of you who have kids!
So, all in all, this was a fun read, and I would definitely recommend it. While it wasn’t really that memorable, what with a lot of flat characters and loads of unused potential, it was nonetheless a good marriage of dark and light all wrapped up in a middle-grade fantasy novel.
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