Book Review: Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 2 of Spellslinger
Publisher: Orbit (August 21, 2018)
Length: 384 pages
The Spellslinger series is starting to take shape with this second volume, and I’m liking where it’s going. Ex-magic student Kellen, having chosen the path of exile, has become transformed into a roaming outlaw of sorts, and I’m feeling these wonderful Western vibes seeping in. Best of all, traveling with our characters mean we get to discover a whole wide world of endless possibilities.
Indeed, Shadowblack is a sequel that greatly expands the world-building. In this book, Kellen and his companions Ferius the Argosi woman and Reichis the squirrel-cat are trekking through the wild and lawless borderland—a far cry from the more structured and civilized Jan’Tep city in which our protagonist grew up. Unable to use magic without bringing any unwanted attention to themselves, Kellen finds himself way out of his element. However, despite their precautions, trouble winds up catching up to our trio when they are ambushed by bounty hunters who nearly get the best of them. Battered and weakened, Kellen has no choice but to trust a pair of strangers who come to their aid, one of whom is an Argosi who seems to be acquainted with Ferius.
But it is the other traveler, Seneira, who astonishes Kellen the most. Like him, she is afflicted by the shadowblack, a deadly magical ailment which causes terrible headaches, disturbing visions, and swirling black markings to appear on the skin around the eyes. What Kellen can’t figure out is how. All his life, he has been taught that the shadowblack only affects magic users, but Seneira is no mage and has no magical ability to speak of. Drawn to the mystery, Kellen and Ferius agree to travel with Seneira and her Argosi mentor (who reluctantly goes by “Rosie”) to her home city, where to their dismay, they find that the plague is even more widespread than they had feared.
Shadowblack was everything I loved about Spellslinger, with a bit of added adventure. The characters are back and they’re as captivating as ever, especially Kellen, who finds himself way out of his depth in this new environment. His sheltered days are over, and he’s learning to get by without relying solely on magic (not that he was a very good mage to begin with), hoping that Ferius will teach him other ways to survive. But thus far, the Argosi woman is keeping her tricks close to the vest, and meeting Rosie has revealed just how secretive Ferius is by comparison. She’s an enigma, and something tells me her plans for Kellen go beyond simply wanting to help him find his way. Happily, there’s also Reichis, there to cut through all the bullshit. With him, what you see is what you get: a bad-tempered little squirrel-cat with an obsession with clawing out people’s eyeballs. Since the expectation is that Kellen will be growing and changing a lot over the course of this series, it’s nice (and even a bit comforting) to know that there are certainties you can always rely upon, such as Reichis’ propensity to say and do outrageously hilarious things.
For the most part though, this series is evolving. The ending of this book establishes a pattern which has been confirmed by the author, who has stated that each volume will take Kellen to new places where he will encounter new forms of magic and intrigue. This structure reminds me very much of a TV series where each episode might be self-contained, but together they make up an overall story arc that tells the journey of the main character. The downside, of course, is the sad implication that we won’t be returning to past places. In fact, Shadowblack ends on a strong sense of goodbye to this part of the world, as Kellen and his companions look ahead to their next destination. That said, it’s hard to see this as a true negative, especially now that I know what to expect. While I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’ll meet some of these side characters again, at the same time I can’t really say I’m all that torn up about moving on to another chapter of Kellen’s adventure. I had a great time with this novel, and now I’m just even more excited for the future of this series.
Knowing Sebastien de Castell, he’ll have another incredible sequel in store for us. So far, I have been very impressed with his YA series; he seems to be able to excel at any kind of story he wants to tell. Every time I pick up one of his books, I know I can expect his great sense of humor, fast-paced plotting, attention-grabbing characters, and nonstop fun. If you enjoyed Spellslinger, you will absolutely want to pick up Shadowblack.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Spellslinger (Book 1)