Book Review: Shadowblack – by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger Book #2

Fantasy, YA Fantasy

Hot Key Books; May 18, 2018 (UK), Orbit Books; August 21, 2018 (US)

340 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

Kellen wasn’t good at being a mage. He’s no good at being an wanderer, either. With few tricks and even fewer spells, he’s basically a one trick pony. And even in exile, he not only retains more than his fair share of problems—bounty hunters, rogue mages, fear, misconception and inability—but manages to even collect those of others—in the form of a shadowblack plague that not only affects mages, but those with no magic at all. But with Ferius Parfax and Reichis there watching out for him… well, he may live long enough for his own shadowblack to kill him.

So begins the aptly named ‘Shadowblack’—the second book in the Spellslinger series, written by Sebastien de Castell. Where Spellslinger introduced us to the so-called “mainstays” in the cast (although de Castell has warned us not to get too attached to any one character, for obvious reasons—advice that I have ignored, for reasons of me), its sequel provides more than enough entertaining, exciting characters to fall in love with all over again. And when Kellen meets a girl his own age, he might just do the same.

I really liked Spellslinger. It had a great story, entertaining characters, fun, mischief, sarcasm… yet did not manage to escape all the pitfalls that often plague new debuts. Shadowblack it seems, has learnt from these mistakes (for the most part). There is still one moment where Kellen is able to wriggle out of a sticky situation. One, though. That’s not bad. Otherwise, de Castell doesn’t need to invent anything to bring his characters through. And while fixing these missteps, Shadowblack capitalizes on its successes. Why improve on perfection, eh?

Where the first book thrust Kellen into a mystery within the lands of the Jan’Tep, his own people, the second sends him on an epic adventure into the unknown—lands that while he has heard about, Kellen has never experienced. I loved this first glimpse into the greater world. And for a wanderer, an exile like Kellen, it’s an adventure that may just be beginning. I really enjoyed the different lands and people, the new sights and experiences, all seen through the eyes of someone experiencing all of them for the first time. Even though Spellslinger introduced a whole new world to the reader, it was one Kellen had known his whole life. If the subsequent books promise to keep varying the surroundings, testing Kellen and his friends with new and exciting adventures—count me in!

As the series continues, it’ll be interesting to see if—and how—Kellen will evolve. In some TV shows, which Spellslinger kinda reminds me of (new episode, new location, new whatever), the while the locale and experiences change, the characters end up remaining the same. Good ol’ Jack, or MacGyver, or whomever. As Kellen is still young, the series aims to make itself into his coming-out party. Not that kind. Well… maybe that kind. Doesn’t matter. Hopefully the following books leads him through a character arc, one that changes who he is even between books, while maintaining—though tweaking—his core through it all. Will he become disillusioned by the outside world? Will he let his Shadowblack control his destiny, or rise to meet it? Will he and Reichis join up with some teens and a psychedelic van and cruise around solving mysteries? Will he experience real change, or will he continue wandering through life with no path before him but the next step and whatever way the wind blows?

I guess we’ll have to see.

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