Pantomime was a great book. Shadowplay is a continuation of it, and provides more of the same. This is in no way a bad thing, but it does make it harder to talk about than I thought was possible.
You see when I first reviewed Pantomime I was enthralled. To begin it was a perfectly enjoyable fantasy novel with all the fixins; young character on the run joins a slightly magical circus in a slightly magical land. Not really heavy in the fantasy elements, though it of course had those little details to set the world apart (ancient history, unbreakable ruins, dragonfly fairies). But it had something to set it apart. Protagonist Micah was actually unique. A few discussions have been held on if this is a spoiler or not but I have maintained it is not; Micah grew up as Gene, and is an intersex teen. And this could have been nothing more than a gimmick, but instead was handled the right way. (My review is here, so I don’t have to rehash all my thoughts).
So the uniqueness of the main character, underrepresented it may be, is no longer a surprise nor unique. This is just the nature of expectations, and in fact is probably a good thing. By refusing to treat Micah’s unique nature as a gimmick some of the newness has left the story; but the fact is it is even easier to just see Micah as the great character he is. While I tried to look at Pantomime as the story it is on its own, there can be no doubt that so much of my thoughts were colored by seeing something I had not in fantasy before. (Though I am sure this is due not to what’s available, but rather my limited exposure to LBTG in speculative fiction).
So with Shadowplay I get to spend more time on the story itself. Because in this one Micah isn’t living in such a fear of discovery, his nature is known by the close circle he works with. So his struggles are a little less unique, though no less interesting. He is still being stalked by a Shadow, a mysterious hunter tracking him for various possible parties. He and fellow fugitive Drystan are wanted for murder and the best way out seems to be hiding with a failed magician. Of course this is going to lead to a magic show. Good times for all.
Which leads me back to my original problem; I don’t really know what else to say about this book. It was a good continuation of the story and like any good middle book started answering the mysteries the first books left us. Much more fantastical this time around we slowly are unraveling the mysterious of the Chimera that left the land, and the penglass that liters the landscape. The inevitable magic show was and the lead up to it were entertaining. I was pleased to see a third character join the show (young girl with her own secrets), letting Micah avoid being the main character who does EVERYTHING important.
I can say that the fantastical elements have been raised. We caught glimpses of what was unique about this land in the first book, but in Shadowplay we see that Micah isn’t the only one special in this land (and I was reassured that Micah’s genitalia wasn’t going to turn into a magical gimmick like I feared may be the direction we were heading). My thoughts that this was a future Earth proved to be false as the history of the land was expanded on, including some explanations for the mysterious Chimaera and the Penglass that litters the land.
I found it to be a slow mover, despite a fair bit of action. I wasn’t as big a fan of the flashbacks in this one; sure it gives us some history and may prove important but so far it felt more like extra filler. And I wonder if there will be a new trade to be learned per book. Not complaining, just wondering if that is going to become this series’ thing. This was obviously a middle book; add a character, get some backstory, but don’t really make huge strides forward.
Consider me still impressed by this series, if not as raving as I was the first time, it is still in my top five YA series going at this point. The next book can’t come fast enough, I doubt I will ever tire of Micah and can’t wait to finally get some answers.