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Patricia C. Wrede – Shadow Magic

January 22, 2014

1. Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede (1982)
Lyra, Book 1

Length: 268 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Started: 24 December 2013 (although I only read a chapter and a half, so I restarted on 02 January 2014)
Finished: 04 January 2014

Where did it come from? Kindle download.
Why do I have it? Wrede’s been a favorite since I was in my early teens, but I only discovered her non-Dealing-with-Dragons books as an adult.
How long has it been on my eTBR pile? Since 02 December 2013.

A kidnapped noble-
woman must find a way to
save herself… and more.

Summary: While the Noble Lord of Brenn is trying to form alliances to protect the land of Alkyra from their old enemies, the Lithmern, his daughter Alethia is kidnapped from the midst of her twentieth birthday party by strange faceless men. They are using strange magic, and take Alethia deep into the woods, where strange creatures out of Alkyra’s distant past are rumored to dwell. Alethia’s brother, Har, and his friend, the trader Maurin, set off in pursuit of her, but if any of them want to get home, let alone save their country, they are going to have to uncover the truth of the old tales, and learn to work with the fabled magical creatures in order to defeat the dark magic being used by their common enemies.

Review: I grew up on (and loved) Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series, and when I more recently discovered her Sorcery & Cecelia series, and the Mairelon books, I quite enjoyed those as well. So I had (and to some extent still have) high hopes for her Lyra books. But in the case of Shadow Magic, I was pretty disappointed.

To be fair, Shadow Magic is Wrede’s first novel. But to continue to be fair: it shows. The best part are the scenes with dialogue among her main characters; Alethia’s got touches of the wit and charm and snark that Wrede’s later heroines have in spades, and her interactions with her siblings, with her father, and with Maurin often put a smile on my face. But those scenes are kind of interspersed within a mishmash of every overused high fantasy trope, and a total lack of character development for any of the secondary characters. There was more than once that I sort of felt like Wrede had taken Tolkien, stuck it in a blender, added in even more fantasy-esque names (without Tolkien’s regard for linguistic coherence) and poured the result out onto the paper. (Kindle screen. Whatever.) The magic woods and the beautiful but hidden cities of the magic users and the objects of great power that were lost long enough ago to have passed into myth and the working together between the races of sentient beings and the woodland creatures in touch with Earth magic building their houses out of trees and the marching of armies into high mountain passes and the secret magical heritages and the et cetera et cetera. Maybe I am being unfair, maybe these things were less cliché back in 1982, but at the same time, I’ve read other books that had a ton of cliché fantasy elements (I’m looking at you, The Wheel of Time) that just seemed to hang together much better. I don’t know if it was the perfunctory worldbuilding, the undeveloped prose style, the flat characters, or what, but this book never grabbed me, and wound up feeling pretty silly. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I’ve noticed that people who are this novel’s staunchest supporters are those who read it as a kid, and that does not surprise me at all; I very well might have been totally into it as a pre-teen. (Heck, I might have similar problems with Dealing with Dragons if I were able to read it without my childhood-love-colored glasses.) It would be a fine book to give to a pre-teen who likes fantasy, but for adults, Wrede’s books get much better as she gets more comfortable with her craft. I’m still going to give the rest of the Lyra novels a try, though.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The caravan wound slowly through the woods along the riverbank and broke at last into the fields surrounding the city.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2014 12:36 pm

    Another author I haven’t had much luck with despite constantly trying… What do you recommend I try that you actually liked by her?

    • January 22, 2014 7:03 pm

      Kailana – My favorites are the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, particularly the first two books, Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons. I liked Sorcery & Cecelia more than you did, although the sequels were definite let-downs. The Mairelon the Magician books are fun, although I don’t know if they’re too similar in their Victorian-ness to S&C?

  2. January 23, 2014 7:16 pm

    Yep, the Lyra books aren’t as good as her later stuff: you aren’t wrong. The Raven Ring is my favorite of them, but I don’t feel confident that even that would hold up to adult scrutiny.

  3. January 29, 2014 10:41 pm

    I’m the same way in that I grew up with the Enchanted Forest, and didn’t really get to Wrede’s other books until later. I’ve been trying to rectify that, and the Lyra series is about the last I have left unread. I probably will still pick this up eventually…but I don’t think I’ll be prioritizing it…

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