Monday, August 26, 2013

Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

Shadowmagic caught my eye yesterday. The blurb promised a funny fantasy adventure about a modern eighteen-year-old boy named Conor who thinks of himself as just an average guy (who just happens to have an eccentric father) until the day two warriors on horseback try to kill him.

From there, things just get stranger - from his abduction to Tir Nan Og to his new friends (a banshee and an imp) and a bunch of new relatives who want him dead.

It sounded so fun it went straight to the top of my To Be Read pile. In fact, I read it that very afternoon. Once I started reading, I was enthralled. So here I am, already writing my review.

Shadowmagic is a fun, fast read. The author keeps the action coming at a quick pace in a tightly woven, well written tale.

Despite growing up without a mother or other close family ties beyond his handicapped dad, Conor is neither overly mature and serious, nor in rebellion. By nature, he is humorous without crossing the line into unkind. It was never unpleasant to see events from his perspective. He's just a typical near-graduate trying to find his way; a well-grounded boy with a good (not perfect) relationship with his single dad.

On the day that the two warriors on horseback show up and try to kill him, he's planning nothing more exciting than a night out at the movies with his girlfriend. Instead, he is taken to Tir Nan Og and imprisoned. His father's carefully woven lies about who he and Conor are begin to unravel as relative after relative shows up to try to kill Conor. It seems there's this old prophecy about the son of a one-handed prince... It just figures that the people nutty enough to believe a prophecy are all related to him, right?

While the storyline may sound dark, it's handled quite lightheartedly. In fact, this is the funniest fantasy novel I've read in a long time.

The setting is wonderful. As a long time fan of Gaelic legends, I could instantly recognize the names of characters from folklore interweaving the history of Lenahan's version of Tir Nan Og. It adds just the right flavor and depth for someone familiar with the legends, without hitting the reader over the head with it.

Trees play a big role in the tale. They mark the different regions, are treated with respect by the inhabitants, and some are even characters themselves. Trees are not, however, always benevolent. They come across every bit as human as the humanoids at times, and more alien than the otherworlders at others. I found this refreshingly unusual and extremely appropriate.

His companions are a good-hearted chatterbox of a banshee, a reticent imp, and a fiery lady who is not at all certain she likes or trusts him. Together they set out to solve their respective mysteries, and save Tir Nan Og from a cruel tyrant along the way.

The only complaint I have of the book was something I noticed hours after I closed the covers on the final page: there was little to make the otherworlders stand out as otherworldly. Perhaps that was the author's intention. Conor's friends Fergal and Araf, who are the otherworlders we see the most, are the imp and the banshee. That suggests so many awesome possibilities, and yet, they have little to mark them as different from any regular boys he might have met in the "Real World". Nor do the other characters from Tir Nan Og seem special or odd, particularly, whether they are a leprechaun or what-have-you.

Showing that we're all very alike beneath the surface isn't such a bad message, though, as a fantasy lover, it would have been interesting to see more otherworldliness. But I didn't even notice any of that while reading, caught and held as I was by the action and the humor. Truly, I've read some mediocre to bad fantasy lately, along with the good. This was a good book.

The ending was satisfyingly real. With Conor having unfinished business in both the real world and Tir Nan Og, it's never a given whether he will choose to remain, or return home when the time comes. Either choice would cost him something, and leave his heart in two worlds.

I loved the story and the setting. It was quite appropriate for a young adult fantasy, without any content I'd be concerned about my eleven-year-old daughter reading.

Author: John Lenahan

Recommended Ages: 12 and up.
288 Pages

Available in Kindle, hardcover, and paperback.
Also available as an audiobook.

Other books in the Shadowmagic Series:

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