Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review - Shadowmagic

Shadowmagic – John Lenahan 
It is very rare that I pick up one of Amazon UK’s “deals of the day.” I hardly ever know the authors and it seems like our US friends get a much better selection of established books offered to them. Whilst I commend the UK site for advertising lesser known authors, occasionally it would be nice to offer readers a author that has been heard of.
The blurb of Shadowmagic however caught my eye. It also had a few positive reviews that did not seem to be from friends and relatives.
The Blurb:
Conor thought he was an average teenager. Okay, so his father only had one hand, spoke to him in ancient languages, and was a bit on the eccentric side, but, other than that, life was fairly normal. Until, that is, two Celtic warriors on horseback and wearing full armor appear at his front door and try to kill him. Don't you hate when that happens? Join Conor as he grapples with typical teenage problems, like how to deal with a father's high expectations, how to survive in the world on your own, and how to woo a beautiful girl who wants you dead.
One of the issues I have with urban fantasy is that I want to escape into other worlds and not spend my time distracted by the fact that the protagonist does not believe what is going on. For example, I have no problem believing the world that Clive Barker created in Weaveworld, nor the world set up in Mike Carey’s and Jim Butcher’s series. Obviously those worlds are not reality but the difference is the characters believe they are real.
With Shadowmagic the very premise of the book whilst intriguing, ended up being its biggest flaw. You never get the sense that Conor comes to terms with the existence of the world he finds himself in and as a result nor did I.
Conor is a likeable character, at 18 years old he has the sort of charm that your everyday young man has: he doesn’t take things too seriously and is constantly found making wise cracks at the outlandish situation he finds himself in.
The problem is, only about 40% of these are successful. There are only so many times I could appreciate the whole “I’m from a different land so you are going to not understand my terminology” line of humour. There are also times that you wish John Lenahan would allow his characters to appreciate the gravity of the situation more which would add to the aforementioned believability factor.
The dialogue is also a little off sometimes as well. Mostly, In some of the conversations his characters has Lenahan almost comes across as a teenager writing a short story for a school project. This is most notable when Conor converses with Fergus (the boy he befriends). Obviously Lenahan has altered the dialogue between the two young men to illustrate their age but I felt he fell short as they came across as far younger than their intended age. I got the impression the characters were 14 rather than 18 years old.
It seems harsh to start the review off with so many negatives because overall, the plot isn’t bad. There is quite an interesting story here, nothing that would win awards for originality but still good nonetheless. The execution is far from perfect though. Rather than create any intrigue or depth to the story, Conor stumbles from scene to scene by default. Plot elements are revealed to the reader through info dumps from characters. These are not always awkward, but you never get the sense that Conor is discovering things for himself but rather things are happening around him.
The supporting cast is good although not brilliant, with Fergus being the only other character of real interest. Any interesting back story a character may have is usually fully explained in the following chapter to the one they appear in. Their stories may be good, but there is no suspense in waiting for it to unfold.
Shadowmagic has a lot of good ideas. The idea of the trees as living and holding equal prominence in the world as humans is great. They add an alternate threat to the world to what is usually something taken for granted. The magic system is nice and simple but effective as a result.
The ending is achieved rather hurriedly and doesn’t resolve an awful lot. It felt a bit like the ending of a cartoon, where the heroes will be back next week to fight again.
Overall, I think “Shadowmagic” did not quite work for me. I think it struggled to establish the type of book it wanted to be. As a light-hearted romp in a fantasy setting I think it falls short. To me, it feels like a good first draft to what could be a very competent book. If it scaled down on the humour and took itself seriously, “Shadowmagic,” would have scored more highly. Still many fans seem to love it, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.
My rating 6.4