Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan

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Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A thrilling adventure for a mismatched group of young people in a world full of mysteries and dangers which mischievously upends many of the clichés of fantasy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: October 2016
Publisher: Scholastic Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781407172088

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This is fantasy in the vast, epic sense of the word. There are warring royal Houses, strange and wonderful settings, unexpected heroes and monsters – lots and lots of monsters, some of which, unfortunately, are human. There are battles in the grand tradition, with our hero and heroine fighting injustice and evil, and there are deaths, losses and triumphs. But that's where the same-old, same-old ends.

For a start, Lily Shadow lives in Gehenna, land of darkness, ghosts and zombies, but happens to be one of the good guys – she passionately loves her home in Castle Gloom, and is keen to protect her realm any way she can. The ghosts are friendly, the landscape is attractive in a darkish sort of way, and the last zombie was a great favourite with the household until he crumbled away. Then there's Thorn, a peasant slave who never backs down however much the traders punish him, and who is brave and honest and determined. There should be no reason for these two to ever cross paths: since the terrible deaths of her parents and brother Lily is Queen of her sunless realm, and Thorn has been sold to the royal executioner, doomed to spend his life running here and there on errands. But Thorn, who's definitely a worthy successor to Robin Hood, comes to the notice of the court through his skills and daring, and Lily, lost and frightened despite her courageous demeanour in public, needs support and friendship as she steels herself to do the only thing she can to save her people from a deadly war – allow herself to be married off to an obnoxious and spiteful prince from the noble House of Solar. Magic is failing in the world of the Six Houses, and Lily, as a girl, has never been allowed to study its secrets as her brother did, so she has no other way to defend her home.

There are other ways this excellent story departs from tradition. Lily may be queen and, in theory, the most powerful person in the realm, but she is still only thirteen and her nanny is just as ready to drag her out of bed in the morning and lecture her on the correct way to behave in company as she has always been. And in many ways the book is as much about the education of girls as about adventure (though it's in no way as dull as that sounds): Lily does have enormous magical power, and if those around her had seen this and helped her develop her gifts the realm would not be in such a dire state. And then there's the role of the family, which is so often played down in adventures: Lily grieves terribly for her murdered parents and brother, and Thorn is determined to find his father and return home to look after his mother and siblings. They may be surrounded on all sides by brutality, deviousness and murder which they face with all the valour and resolve we could hope for, but at heart, they long for the security and comfort they knew when they were small and the world was a happy, safe pace.

This is a splendid book, full of fascinating people and wonderful creations including a really, really humungous bat, set in a background which is appealing and original. Readers will be delighted to discover that Lily and Thorn are due to continue their adventures in a second book, and let's face it – a book that's recommended by greats of the fantasy world like Rick Riordan and Jonathan Stroud just has to be a brilliant read. Don't miss it.

If you enjoy reading about heroes and heroines who simply don't fit into the colourful and unusual worlds in which they find themselves, try A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge about a world where people's faces can never show emotion. Or you may prefer Neversuch House by Elliott Skell and its sequel Mask of the Evergones which tells the tale of a large family (plus servants) who haven't ventured beyond the walls of their vast house and estate for several generations. We think you'll also en joy Dream Magic by Joshua Khan.

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