Series: Pantomime #2 | Edition: eARC | Where I got it: NetGalley | Genre: Fantasy, YA | Publisher: Strange Chemistry | Published: January 2nd 2014 | My rating: 5/5
Please note: Below the cut there will be at least mild spoilers for Pantomime (the first book in this series). If you haven’t read that yet, you may want to do so first!
The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.
He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates. People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus – the runaway daughter of a noble family. And Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…
You know those times when you read a book that leaves you wishing so sincerely that you’d been able to read it when you were a kid, or in your teens? That feeling might be a little bittersweet, but let’s focus on the sweet, because honestly – I wish I’d had this (and Pantomime) to read fifteen years ago.
As was established in Pantomime, Micah Grey was born Iphigenia Laurus. His parents wanted a girl; Micah identifies as a boy. In truth, Micah is both. Pantomime dealt with how he found his feet within his own identity; in Shadowplay we get to see how Micah handles having certain kinds of growing up to do…
…Oh, and being wanted for murder. And learning stage magic. And finding out that there’s actual magic involved in being what he is.
This book is all magic, all the time, and I mean that in the most admiring way possible. It’s a beautiful story, wonderfully told. I settled right back into Micah’s narrative from the moment I picked this up, and his story ran away with me all over again. The balance between magical mystery, high-stakes duel of illusions and romance was maintained incredibly well throughout, and Laura Lam deserves kudos for that, especially. Letting the balance tip one way or another would be too easy for many, but she holds it steady from start to finish.
What I loved more than the worldbuilding (which is gorgeous, by the way) and the central dueling-magicians plot, though, was the romance. If any one aspect of this book’s content should be singled out for that deft handling, it’s this one. I won’t give away any details, but the progress of the relationship between Micah and Drystan, fraught with uncertainty though it inevitably is, is one of the most touching that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Ever. This, right here, is why I wish I’d had books like it to read when I was the age that Micah is here. The author shines a light on sexuality, and the difficulties of dealing with it when you are (in Micah’s case especially) not like everyone else, and she does it pitch-perfectly. There is no glaring bias here, one way or another. Micah may be unique (in more ways than one, but that’s spoiler territory) but he has to deal with the problems and uncertainties of growing up just like anyone else. It’s not easy for Drystan either, but that lack of bias – and the balance of sympathy for both of them – makes their story one that’s simply a pleasure to read. There was not a single cynically raised eyebrow to be had here, and for that alone I’m in awe of it.
And then there’s that magical mystery, and all the worldbuilding. Her characters being so deeply sympathetic not being enough, Lam has created an amazing world for them to live in. Much is made here of Micah and Drystan being uncertain where they’ll go next, if indeed they decide to move again. Part of me wanted them to, just so I could see more of this world!
The magic that’s native to it, however rare it’s become, is also incredibly intriguing. A lot of it is tied in with the truth of Micah’s nature, as well as newcomer Cyan, so I won’t go into detail about it – but trust me, it’s pretty fascinating stuff. And beautiful. I keep falling back on that word, but it really is. Everything about this story is just lovely to read. Lam has a remarkable style that makes her books nothing short of a pleasure to read, and I suspect they would be if there was less strength to her stories than there is. As it stands, however, this one is every bit as deserving of its five stars as the first book was – heck, if I could give it six, I would.
And the duel! I was gripped from beginning to end. I have a soft spot for old-fashioned stage magic like we get to see here, so it was heaps of fun to read, and of course I rooted for our heroes!
…Speaking of gripping, however, I may not forgive the author for that ending. I WOULD LIKE THE NEXT BOOK NOW PLEASE. *Twitch*
So, there. The words “you need to read this book” probably get thrown around a LOT – but in this case, I can’t not say them. This is definitely a series that, no matter your age, should not be ignored.