Series: Shadow Magic #2
Published by Disney-Hyperion on April 11th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Some MG violence, One quick kiss)
In Book 2 of a three book series, things are dire for the inhabitants of Castle Gloom and the surrounding villages. The undead are leaving their graves in droves, a troll army is on the march from the north, and people are mysteriously disappearing from their homes. The people of Gehenna are blaming their misfortunes on Lilith Shadow, their young queen. They believe she has cursed them by using magic, a practice forbidden to women. With her trusty executioner among the missing and her blackguard soldiers busy battling trolls, it is up to Lily and her friend Thorn to root out the real cause of all the trouble. Their search will uncover ugly truths and eventually lead to a nightmarish confrontation with nothing less than the rulership of the realm at stake. Zombies, ghosts, trolls, dream weavers, a black-hearted villain, and a giant hero bat are only some of the imaginative delights that await readers who relish a soaring adventure combined with a hair-raising mystery.
Dream Magic is great fun and highly imaginative. I wish I’d read the first book on the series, though—when the book was offered to me, I was told it was the second in a series, but that it was a standalone, and that was sort of true, in the sense that it had it’s own story arc, but it was definitely a continuation of the first book. On the positive side, it wasn’t confusing at all—Khan did a great job of “reminding” readers what had already happened, but I was missing a connection to those events (and the characters that went with them). Still, considering that, it’s actually amazing that I enjoyed the book so much—which is a testament to Khan’s storytelling skills.
What Fed My Addiction:
- Complete story arc. I mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating because I think this is a fantastic feature in a MG series. Though the story very obviously is a continuation of book one, it has its own complete story arc. There is a new villain introduced and that villain’s story is resolved (with room for the possibility of continuation) by the end. If other MG readers are anything like my kids (especially my son when he was that age), this is key. My son as a middle schooler had a short attention span. He might pick up a series and start reading it again completely out of order. He also might binge-read a whole series or wait six months to read the next books. Series like these where each book can stand alone are (but are still very much a cohesive series) are perfect for him!
- Darkly different. I loved the supernatural creatures in this story and the way that Khan balances making them mostly harmless but still keeping them spooky. For instance, the zombies don’t go around attacking people for their brains—but they apparently do like to eat them. Plus, they’re decomposing and keep needing to be sewn back together. And they’re not great communicators (their speech sounds pretty much like moans and groans). I thought that this was a fun way to play with these supernatural characters and keep them very creepy without being truly horrific. There were lots of creatures too—ghosts, zombies, trolls (who were sort of seen as the enemy, but there were a few allies as well). And Lily’s obvious love for all her “people” was charming.
- The consequences of magic. One of the biggest themes of this book is Lily trying to learn how to control her magic and the consequences when she uses it. The people in her kingdom believe that a female who uses magic is a curse, so at first she has to hide her ability—but it soon becomes necessary to show the world. Every time Lily uses her magic, though (especially in her relative ignorance), it drains her and, even more importantly, it changes her. Since she doesn’t know what all the consequences will be, she has to be very careful. Of course, caution isn’t always possible when you’re being attacked by supernatural creatures!!
What Left Me Hungry for More:
- Little bit of a slow start. The beginning of the book felt a teensy bit slow to me, but I think the main reason for that was because it was establishing where these characters had ended up and the state of the kingdom after the last book. It was great to have that information, but since I wasn’t connected to those events or characters yet, it took me a little while to feel truly engaged. The action didn’t pick up until about a third of the way through the book when the first threat really showed up.
This was a fun, slightly dark (but not at all too dark) middle grade read. I highly recommend reading the first book instead of jumping in at this second installment. I waffled a little bit on my rating for this one between 3.5 and 4 stars but ended up landing on 4/5 stars because I’m fairly certain that if I had read the first book, I would have easily given it 4 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Take a look at Joshua Khan’s top ten addictions! I especially love imagining Khan going to his first Superman movie with the costume on under his clothes a la Clark Kent—very fun! And I’m jealous of his travels!
Joshua Khan’s Top Ten Addictions
Comics. That’s how I learnt to read. Big, flash, epic and with a guy in a cape. Or a woman with a magic lasso. Or a future cop patrolling the mega-city or an angry Canadian with some pop-up claws.
I devoured them. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the X Men. I’d copy the artwork, debate who’d beat who in a fight, wonder what it must be like to have a Batcave and, yes, even do the dressing up well before cos-play was a thing. I remember going to see the first Superman movie (this is back in 1978) with my Superman costume under my school uniform in true Clark Kent style.
Got a copy of DC’s SUPERSONS #2 in my rucksack right now. Batman and Superman as dads. Classic.
2. THE HOBBIT
I have a tatty paperback of it, I’ve a beautiful illustrated hardback of it, I’ve even the graphic novel of it. Then there’s the DVD set.
Basically I have to have this story within easy reach and revisit Middle-Earth every few years.
It was read to me when I was about six or seven. Our school teacher read it, chapter by chapter, at the end of the day over the summer term. I really think that’s why I became a writer. I was taken off to Middle-Earth all those years ago and I don’t think I really ever came back.
3. TABLE-TOP GAMING
I learnt how to write by playing Dungeons and Dragons. A LOT. I mean, a lot a lot. Roleplaying games have been an addiction for over thirty years. That’s a lot of storytelling practice.
It’s one of my recommendations about becoming a writer. Words to paper, sure, but roleplaying games are pure storytelling. Fantasy is the big one, thanks to D&D, but there’s no genre that isn’t covered. I’ve done spy, weird west, gothic horror, fairy tale and sci-fi (as well as a few comics I’ve also got the Star Wars ‘Edge of the Empire’ boxed set in my bag).
I belong to a local club so the toys come out every Monday, no matter what. Then often on Thurs and Fri. Yeah, I guess that qualifies as an addiction.
The music (Sisters of Mercy, The Cult), the look (black through and through), the writing (Poe, Stoker, modern masters like Anne Rice) and the movies (Interview with a Vampire, Let the Right One In, even League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
The Shadow Magic saga was born out of my love for the gothic genre. It was my chance to do the haunted castle, the bats, the undead but with a spooky, funny spin.
There are few things better than sitting under a lamp at night, letting the shadows come in at the edges, and letting yourself slip into the world of darkness. The little tingle up your spine as you turn the pages, that brush of cold air on the nape…
There’s not much to add, really. I love chocolate and it’s my burden, and delight.
6. THE WORDS
Writing itself is an addiction. How else could I have ended up here? I love Mondays, because Mondays means writing! I try not to work over the weekends, so I’ve charged up to hit the keyboard come 9am, Monday morning.
To be honest, it can be difficult to switch off. I ponder plot on the bus, contemplate characters on the couch, brood on baddies in bed. The trick is taking time off, properly. Finding something to do that can switch me off from stories. It’s hard, since my big distraction used to be reading but now even that becomes a form of work. Why did the writer do that? Is there a reason a new character has appeared twenty pages from the end? Why does that heroine have a twin? It’s a rare book that completely consumes me. If you can’t see the stitching in the story, the writer’s someone special.
This is a big deal. I used to live in the Far East. I’ve travelled a lot and that all feeds into my writing. I love exploring new places, going down back alleys, eating at street stalls, taking local buses and trains. I love seeing the grand palaces and exotic tombs as well as the bus station and the homes.
One of the best things about being in Europe is the history at my doorstep. I live in London (greatest city on earth) and a few hours by plane or train can have me in Vienna or Paris or the Alps or the Amalfi Coast.
Seeing new places allows me to make my writing feel more real. Gehenna’s an amalgam of the castles I’ve seen, the graveyards I’ve visited, the music I’ve heard and craggy moors I’ve hiked across. Got a trip to Milan lined up, then off to Slovakia and then summer in Crete, to see the palace of King Minos himself. Nothing gives me more of a thrill than walking the same streets as, say, Alexander or Julius Caesar. Or sitting in a palace built by the Moghul emperors. If you want your writing to feel authentic, if you want to write about magical world, visit magical places. There are plenty out there. Then bring that sense of wonder you feel to your stories.
8. HANGING OUT
This is a bigger deal now than it used to be. One of the best things about working from home and freelancing is the family time. I’ve been very lucky in being around to watch my kids grow up. I took them to Wednesday swimming lessons for six years until both swim like sharks, and helped with maths homework and the odd morning packed lunch panic. Eldest was first ready of SHADOW MAGIC and youngest gave me the series title. Both are in their teens now and not so keen to hang out with Dad the way they used to. That sort of time is precious so I want to make the most of it before they’re off! Writing’s great, but you need to be reminded of the big picture every now and then.
9. BEING BY MYSELF AND LETTING MY MIND WANDER
One of the other reasons I love writing is that you can spend days, weeks even, not talking to anyone. I love writing in cafes, headphones on, writing and people watching. Same goes for bus rides. I might work from home for a few days, then take the bus into town and work at a cafe (I’m in one right now, just off Trafalgar Square). The No. 3 bus takes me from South London, across the Thames and past the House of Parliament and Big Ben. The view from the top at night-time is amazing, and I’ve done some of my best plot pondering on that journey. Basically writing’s a great job for daydreamers!
10. Hmm, running out of ideas. Can I put CHOCOLATE twice? I really love chocolate, that’s all.
Of course, you can put chocolate twice, Joshua! What kind of a silly question is that?
About the Author
Writes a bit about goth princesses, outlaws and giant bats. And zombies.
Lives in London but would rather live in a castle and is a lot less scary in real life than his photo would suggest.
Haha! I love the “Top Ten Addictions.” I think chocolate would be all ten of my addictions . . .
Yes, chocolate is pretty much essential for life. I’m not sure how dogs survive without it.
Sigh – I do love chocolate and I’m kind of missing it right now.
Thanks for the review! I’m glad it was an enjoyable read. Sorry you wish you had the first one beforehand; I understand that. 🙂
I used to NEVER accept a book for review if it isn’t the first in a series because I know myself and I don’t like to read books out of order. But lately, I’ve read more books that are truly standalones and I’ve gotten braver with reading in the “wrong” order—this was one case where even though the book was still very good, I wished I’d read the first one. 🙂
I really can’t stand a slow start, but tbh that cover is so eye-catching–and I don’t even read MG. I like the sound of this one, maybe I’ll recommend this one to my younger cousin. Nice review!
I do honestly think the beginning wouldn’t have felt as slow if I’d read the first book and been more invested in the characters and learning what had become of them since then. Since I was sort of catching up, it took me a bit more time to warm up to the story.
Sounds like a great adventure read and a good start to getting into “bigger” fantasy books. And yay for complete arc story! Glad this book worked out for you! Lovely review, Nicole!
Yes, I think it’s a great way to get middle graders interested in the fantasy genre!
This sounds like such fun! I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, but I really should. There are some great books out there. Not to mention it’d be nice to be in the know as my daughter gets older and (hopefully) will be reading them.
I enjoyed the author’s top ten addictions list. 🙂 My husband has gotten my daughter into comics. It’s fun to see her get excited about reading it all its forms. If my husband has his way, she’ll be playing role-playing type games in good time as well. Haha. And I’m right there with Khan on chocolate.
Thank you for sharing (and for the book recommendation!).
There are a lot of MG books that are fantastic—I definitely recommend branching out!