The nitty-gritty: A beautifully realized world, a story filled with magic and illusion, and a unique main character on a journey of self-discovery.
“In all these many years, we have found no archaeological evidence of either Alder or Chimaera bodies. No graveyards. No mummies found in ice. No bones. Only Vestige, as if one day they all left. It is a small wonder that many believe the Chimaera never existed at all. Sometimes, in a darker mood, I wonder that, myself.”
Unpublished article by Professor Caed Cedar
**Minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Pantomime. Sorry, but I just can’t do a complete review without them!
Imagine a world where an alien race once lived long ago, but has vanished, leaving behind magical artifacts called Vestige and odd and impenetrable blue glass structures called Penglass. This is the magical backdrop for Laura Lam’s Pantomime and Shadowplay, the latter of which has just been released. This time, Lam sets her characters amidst the magical world of illusion, when Micah and Drystan become magician’s apprentices. I was entranced by the world of the circus in Pantomime, but I have to admit I adored the change of setting in Shadowplay. There’s just something about magic that makes me feel as if anything is possible, and a feeling of breathless anticipation and awe permeates this story and will make you believe in magic, even if that magic is only illusion.
But the world-building alone isn’t what makes this book so special. Lam’s characters are truly unique, in particular the character of Micah, who is intersexual (meaning that he has both male and female physical characteristics). In the second installment, Micah is getting closer to accepting his differences, and some of the confusion he felt at the end of the last book has dropped away. Lam combines this journey of self-discovery with a rip-roaring plot full of action, mystery and danger, and if you’re like me, you’ll hang on every word as the story unfolds.
Sixteen-year-old Micah and former circus clown Drystan are on the run, after violent events at the circus forced them to flee for their lives. In the city of Imachara they seek assistance from a man named Jasper Maske, a once-great magician. He agrees to let them stay with him, provided they agree to become apprentices and learn the art of magic. When Maske is challenged to a “magic duel” by his rival Pen Taliesin, the two make a terrible pact, and suddenly Micah and Drystan must learn Maske’s routines flawlessly in order to help him win.
But someone called a Shadow is looking for Micah, a mysterious man who has been hired by Micah’s parents, and it’s getting harder and harder to stay hidden. Micah will do anything to stay with Drystan and Maske, because the last thing he wants is to go back to his old life.
Once again, we get bits and pieces of information about the world of the Alder and the things they left behind, Vestige and Penglass, but no clear answers about how Micah fits in with all of these things. I know I’m being sort of vague, but if you haven’t read Pantomime, I don’t want to spoil this part for you. There are several dream sequences when Micah gets to see through the eyes of a creature called the Damselfly, dreams that show past events which suggest that Micah is part of something much bigger than just being part of a magic act. But these scenes, while revealing, only frustrated me in the end, because we still don’t get all the answers.
By far the most satisfying part of the book, though, are the relationships between the characters, and watching each character grow by leaps and bounds. Micah has been leading a dual life, first living as a girl named Iphigenia, and then embracing his male side as Micah after running away to the circus. Although he hides his female attributes and presents himself as a boy, Micah is growing to accept both sides of himself, although you can still see his struggle during some scenes in the book. He’s also learning more about where he came from (he was adopted as a baby) by way of a nifty little Vestige device that projects a creature known as the Damselfly, who helps explain some of the mythology of their world to Micah. Micah and Drystan are becoming closer as well, and begin an innocent romance in Shadowplay. Drystan knows all about Micah’s sexuality and accepts him just the way he is, which I thought was a wonderful part of their relationship.
I also loved the character of Cyan, a girl who can read minds and joins the boys in Maske’s magic act. Cyan also has a mysterious past, just like Micah, and I loved the way they both discover parts of those pasts together. Jasper Maske was a wonderfully drawn character as well. He too has secrets, and he has to learn to trust his friends before he can share them.
The story is fast-paced and exciting, and Lam plants lots of clues as to what the next book will have in store for readers. It was sad getting to the end, but satisfying as well. I’ve grown to love Micah and Drystan over the past two books, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. If you appreciate stories with true originality and diversity, Laura Lam’s series is a must-read.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ from the finished version.
You can find Shadowplay here: