Tuesday 10 October 2017

Shadowblack (Spellslinger #2), Sebastian de Castell

"Look at all of those stars. Why'd you need to pick just one to follow?"
It's a few months since Kellen left his people behind. Now aged sixteen, Kellen is an outlaw, relying on his wits to keep him alive in the land of the Seven Sands. He misses home, he misses family and more than anything, he misses Nephenia, the girl he left behind. 

Then he meets Seneira, a blindfolded girl who isn't blind, and who carries a secret that's all too familiar to Kellen. Kellen and Ferius resolve to help - but the stakes are far higher than they realise. A Shadowblack plague is taking hold - and Kellen can't help but suspect his own people may even be behind it. 

* * *
3 / 5

This book reminded me of a TV episode: a small contained plot that didn't really move along the main story arc, but that was still fun and had the great original characters, but also added some new side ones I didn't really care about and vanished at the end. Shadowblack has Kellen, Reichis, and Ferius from Spellslinger and is focused around the sudden spread of the shadowblack plague in the Seven Sands. 

Four months in the borderlands had brought me to one irrefutable conclusion: I made a terrible outlaw

We have Kellen, exiled from his homelands and his people, the Jan'tep mages, living the life of an outlaw with his sidekick cat-squirrel Reichis and his somewhat mentor the wandering Argosi Ferius. Kellen has the shadowblack, a magical plague that can be recognised by swirling black markings around the eyes, that steadily drives a person into madness. To make his year worse, Kellen was also forcibly counter-banded by his parents, meaning he cannot access five of the six mage disciplines. Left only with a small touch of Breath magic, Kellen has taken, badly, to the life of a spellslinger. I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Spellslinger, and so I picked up this sequel eagerly anticipating returning to the characters and the world that de Castell has lovingly crafted. We get a new setting, the desert borderland of the Seven Sands, which is depressingly underused and the only mention it really gets is the occasional trek through the sands, and a couple of new characters in Seneira, a blindfolded yet not blind girl, and her Argosi mentor Rosie.

Rosie is basically irrelevant. She drops in and out of the book and vanishes towards the end in a puff of, well, I'd say magic, but there's not exactly a lot of that in this book. I loved the magical system that de Castell had created in Spellslinger, and I really was hoping to read more about it, but alas. Mostly we just get Kellen throwing around his exploding powders and that's about it on the magical front, much to my disappointment. Then there's Seneira. I didn't really care much for her either; mostly I felt sort of apathetic towards her. If Spellslinger was a video game, Seneira would be that random NPC you'd help out in order to get some XP to level you up for the main quest.

"You talk about magic like it's a joke, but it's not Magic is power, Ferius."
"Kid one day, if you live long enough, you're gonna figure out that power is the biggest joke of all" 

Despite this negative talk, I did enjoy Shadowblack. Reading the book felt like watching Avatar: the legend of Aang, a weird comparison, but bear with me! First we have the similarity in characters, the magical (or not) special boy Aang/Kellen, the animal companion Reichis/Appa, the slightly sarky sort of blind girl Seneira/Toph, and the goofy one Ferius/Sokka. But mostly, Shadowblack made me feel comfortable and fuzzy; I knew how the plot was going to go, I rooted for our hero Kellen, I enjoyed his character developments and spiritual/self-discovery arc. 

Shadowblack didn't wow me, it didn't make my heart race or flip through the pages like Spellslinger did, but it was a fun read, and I'll be joining Kellen on his next adventures.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of Shadowblack

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