I’m a bit late yet again but considering all the blog tours I’m scheduled for this month, I figured it’s better to post this month’s Sequel Sunday a day late (or six days early?). No one really cares about this except for me but still… it’s in the name, y’know?
But whatever. This month I’m finally going to talk about an ongoing fantasy series that’s, in my humble opinion, criminally underrated: Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series. I raved about the first book, Spellslinger, about a year ago and I even described it as the Harry Potter antithesis that we didn’t know we deserve. No tea, no shade to The Boy Who Lived, of course. Just saying that Harry Potter’s story, compared to other fantasy books, is really quite underwhelming, even considering the younger target audience. Also, HP’s magic system is so basic that it’s walking into class late with the latest Starbucks monstrosity and constantly on the verge of cultural appropriation every time it speaks.
Anyway. On to the review!
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.
Despite my best efforts, I could not resist devouring this book in one day. Shadowblack was just so good. It was exciting, thrilling, and subtly heartwarming – the book was an adventure indeed.
What I loved about this book was how Kellen, fresh off abandoning his family, his people, his lifelong dream of magic, still clearly had a lot of growing up to do. Sure, in the first book he at least managed to unlearn much of his prejudices; in this book, he’s a lot less ignorant of the world but still he’s a kid making selfish decisions out of fear and anxiety. Kellen feels like a real teenager still figuring things out and making a crap ton of mistakes along the way and there’s a sincerity in his development that I just find endearing.
The story itself picked up on the hint of intrigue that was suggested in the first book. We get a better idea of the bigger plot at hand but Shadowblack knew enough not to overload us with too much story threads – just enough to get us excited for the succeeding books.
Overall, Shadowblack was an immensely enjoyable book that was part fantasy adventure, part mystery, and part family drama. This is the kind of book that you can really get yourself deliciously lost in.
Spellslinger vs Shadowblack
The first book detailed Kellen’s struggles to become a mage like the rest of his esteemed family. We’re shown that despite how he’s essentially sharper and more learned than his peers, he’s the weakest in his class and is in danger of forfeiting his Jan’Tep position in society. Spellslinger was a story about an unlucky boy who comes to learn that his people’s proud history is tainted and eventually decide to break free from generations of subjugation.
Shadowblack, the sequel, is set a few months after the first book, with Kellen blundering along his newfound nomadic life. He no longer wants to be a mage but he’s also not really sure if the Argosi way is for him either. The sequel centers on the mystery of the shadowblack plague and Kellen – marked with the shadowblack himself – wants to help in finding a cure, if there is one. Unfortunately, a much deeper and sinister plot is afoot and Kellen gets himself wrapped up in the mess yet again.
The first book had to lay down the groundwork for the series so much of the first few chapters were dedicated to building the world and the magic system. The way that de Castell exposited pertinent information was seamless and organic so they were never in the way of the plot. In fact, as a fantasy nerd myself, I quite enjoyed those passages since the series’ magic system is so creative and clever. Unlike a certain contemporary fantasy that shall not be named (it rhymes with “toothless tragic”), the focus on how the world’s magic works doesn’t feel extraneous and self-indulgent. It actually contributes to the story either by reinforcing the story world, fleshing out Kellen’s character, or both at the same time.
The sequel, on the other hand, didn’t have to explain every little thing anymore so more time was spent on the actual story. Not gonna lie, I missed Kellen geeking out over some aspect of magic or other but I did enjoy the faster pacing of the sequel. Shadowblack went by faster than Spellslinger since there was more at stake and less time to get everything done.
As much as I loved Spellslinger, Shadowblack was undoubtedly the more compelling read. The betrayals and plot twists in the first book were heart-wrenching, that’s true, but Shadowblack felt more like the magical adventure that I was promised.
Moreover, the new characters introduced in Shadowblack were far more interesting than in the first book. In a society of mages obsessed with magic, there really isn’t much room for variety to be honest. The sequel at least gave us characters who care about other things than power which I found more appealing.
Does It Hold Up?
Absolutely it does!
As a sequel, it thoroughly succeeds in holding up the promise of the first book while also being its own sort of contained story. Clearly Kellen’s adventures (and troubles) are just getting started.
Shadowblack is a great sign that this fantasy book series is a good one. I have the third book on hand and I hope to get the 4th and 5th book soon. Hopefully Book Depository will be kind to my bank account.
Finally done with this one! God, I love this series so much. It really speaks to me in a way that not a lot of high fantasy books does. I think it’s mainly because I relate with Kellen too much. I know what it’s like to have lofty dreams, high expectations to carry, and just not enough natural talent to get one’s feet off the ground. Medicine may not be as fun as Kellen’s magecraft but it’s no less demanding.
Next month’s Sequel Sunday will be V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows, sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic. This is yet another high fantasy book coincidentally starring a mage named Kell. This Kell though I’m not overly fond of. But I miss my queen Delilah Bard so Kell be damned.