Shadowblack

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Spellslinger. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Shadowblack was written by Sebastien de Castell and first published in 2017. It is the second part of the Spellslinger series and is preceded by Spellslinger (2017). The third instalment – Charmcaster – is expected to be released in May 2018. As Shadowblack carries on shortly after its prequel left off, I would advise reading them in sequence to have any idea of what is going on.

Kellen is finding it hard to adapt to life as an outlaw. Reichis’s attempted heists just seem to get him beaten up and Ferius hasn’t even tried to teach him the ways of the Argosi. Despite everything that his family did to him, he still finds that he longs to return to his people but even that is impossible. The Jan’Tep have placed a death warrant on his head and it’s unlikely that they will lift it unless he can find a cure for his shadowblack.

Things take an unexpected turn when Kellen meets another Argosi on the road. The newcomer calls herself the Path of Thorns and Roses and has some kind of history with Ferius. She is also in the process of escorting Seneira – a blindfolded girl who is not blind – back to her father at the Academy of Teleidos.

The mission seems simple enough, but unexpected dangers lie in wait in the desert city. The shadowblack is spreading and it’s not just magic users that are in danger. As Kellen and his friends search for the source of the outbreak, he meets Dexan Videris – a spellslinger who claims that he has a way of curing the disease. Kellen could well have found his ticket back into Jan’Tep society, but in making a deal with Dexan he could damage his friendship with Ferius beyond repair. Is the spellslinger telling the truth, or is he somehow connected to the spread of the shadowblack?

At the end of Spellslinger, it seemed pretty obvious where Kellen’s adventures were going to take him next. He had discovered the horrible secret of his people, had most of his power stripped from him and declared himself as one of the Argosi. While Kellen is still in the company of Ferius and Reichis, Shadowblack certainly did not follow the path that I was expecting. Unfortunately, I did not think that the change was a good thing.

When I read Spellslinger, one of the things that I liked the most was how de Castell portrayed Jan’Tep culture. It almost read like a thriller, badly paced in parts but containing some interesting twists as Kellen began to learn about his father’s political machinations and the false history that the Jan’Tep council spread to hide the massacre that their ancestors committed.

Shadowblack felt very different. As the story has moved from the Jan’Tep city, most of the politics has been stripped from its plot. There is still a mild sense of unrest between the sovereign nations and the Seven Sands, but this doesn’t really impact the proceedings at all. Instead, the story has evolved into a disappointingly bland adventure, set in a world that feels like a watered-down Wild West. The setting of the Academy never felt as developed as the Jan’Tep school, so it was difficult to get a good feel for the kind of people who went there and what they studied.

In the non-disclosed amount of time that has passed between the novels, Kellen has learned nothing from Ferius about being one of the Argosi. His shadowblack is also still very much part of him, but also does not seem to have worsened at all despite the fact it was presented as an aggressive terminal illness in the first book. While early chapters imply that these issues are forefront in Kellen’s mind, they are soon swept aside as he comes to learn about the shadowblack plague in Teleidos and turns his attention to finding out where this begin.

I talked about Middle Novel Syndrome in my recent review of Days of Blood and Starlight, and I’m sad to say that Shadowblack is another example of this. While Spellslinger could be slow, this novel moves at a crawl. There is very little action, but many scenes of characters discussing what they should do and “questioning” other people around the town who may know something. The story’s twists are all quite easy to see coming and I was in no doubt who the true villains were, and what they had planned, long before the climax.

This was, in a word, weak. While Shadowblack did at least wrap up its story arc, it left a lot of major threads hanging for the inevitable third novel. In doing so, it didn’t really feel like a complete story in its own right. It was more a bridge, designed to pave the way for whatever is coming in Charmcaster. Like Spellslinger, the story didn’t even really end well. It just kind of petered out following a reasonably straightforward showdown with the bad guy.

The characters were also a bit variable. I am still quite fond of Kellen, although his first-person narrative does get a bit repetitive at times. I could not really understand why he wanted to return to his family following his counter-banding, but I could understand his frustration towards Ferius and the stress of life on the run. However, I did think that more should have been made about his shadowblack. While we see the debilitating affect of this on other characters in the story, Kellen seems surprisingly okay. He talks about his visions and pain but we don’t really see much evidence of it. Perhaps more effort should have been made to show the effects on Kellen, rather than just describe them after the fact.

Yet, as much as liked Kellen, I felt that de Castell seems to have a problem with writing female characters. Ferius is utterly infuriating this time around. She never says what she is actually thinking and instead chooses to constantly spew faux-philosophical clichés. Nine out of ten of these don’t actually seem to mean anything. Newcomers Rosie and Seneira also don’t really contribute anything towards the story. Rosie seems pretty cool but drops in and out of the plot, frequently vanishing for chapters at a time. Seneira, on the other hand, is a horribly weak character. While she mentions the fact that she used to be strong, she spends most of the novel lamenting her condition and crying on Kellen’s shoulder. Ultimately, neither Rosie or Seneira play a role in the climax.

The one saving grace of Shadowblack was Reichis. I wasn’t expecting to like the squirrel cat at all but he injected much needed humour into the novel. Reichis still makes me think of Rocket Raccoon. He’s aggressive and foul-mouthed but ultimately has a heart of gold and cares more for his human friends than he lets on. Surprisingly, he gets a good deal of character development and becomes one of the most complex characters in the book.

So, I think that about covers it. Ultimately, I was very disappointed by this book. While I really enjoyed Spellslinger, I found its sequel to be slow burning and full of filler. However, I do have hope that this was just Middle Novel Syndrome in action. I will certainly be reading Charmcaster when it is released in May and I am optimistic that it will be a marked improvement.

Shadowblack can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Charmcaster | Arkham Reviews
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