Thursday, 16 January 2014

Shadowplay by Laura Lam

Shadowplay by Laura Lam is the sequel to Pantomime, which I rather enjoyed. Where Pantomime can be loosely summarised as "intersex girl runs away to join the circus as a boy", the story in Shadowplay builds up in complexity, particularly in regards to worldbuilding only hinted at in the prequel. The blurb and parts of my review will contain spoilers for the previous book (though not for Shadowplay itself). You have been warned.
The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates.

People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus–the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.
Shadowplay, again written in first person to circumvent Micah's changing attitudes towards their male and female aspects, is somewhat more focussed on fantasy elements than its prequel. Although there definitely is continued exploration of Micah's nature. Although they're living as a boy for almost all of Shadowplay, there are times when their female aspect is very relevant (like having boobs and periods). There's also the new romantic relationship which, depending on who is watching (and I mean this literally) is presented by Micah (+ lover who I won't name because slight spoiler) as either homosexual or heterosexual, based on how Micah wants other people to see them. (Although in the end all the people Micah cares about know about their genitals, there's still some weight to how they present themselves.) I found it very interesting to read about, even though it's not really the central driver of the plot. (And I'm finding it hard to refer to Micah gender-neutrally since they're always referred to as either he or she or a name in the book.)

As I predicted in my review of Pantomime, we learn more about the history of the world in Shadowplay; a lot more, including what the background is on those weird artefacts and glowy buildings. And the damselfly that we met in the first book (and which just surprised me by being a real word and not making spellchecker sad). Also what happened to the mysterious ancient Alder race which seemed to have just disappeared. So basically many questions are answered. Not all of them, but its clearer which direction the next book will take in that respect, whenever it may appear.

The actual plot of Shadowplay, focusses on Micah and Drystan making new friends while on the lam and also learning magic tricks. The new characters introduced are Maske, the master magician and Cyan, who completes their magic performance team. I believe Cyan is the one on the front cover. Speaking of characters, I kept forgetting that Drystan isn't actually that much older than Micah (only six years, apparently), especially in the first book when he was introduced as a clown. Maybe it was just because he was lumped with the other clowns who I (also) assumed were middle aged. Eh, there was reason enough to remember his relative youth in this one.

Shadowplay was an enjoyable read. I'd say it's a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Pantomime. For readers new to the series, you can read the second book first, but I strongly recommend starting with Pantomime. The background to the characters, especially Micah, will make much more sense that way. I would recommend the series to all fantasy fans, not just fans of YA fantasy. There is a depth of worldbuilding not often found in YA that I suspect will appeal to readers who might usually read BFF (big fat fantasy), although these books are definitely shorter than the standard BFF fare.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 2 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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