Old magics are waking. But will the world survive their return?
Micah Grey almost died when he fled the circus with Drystan – now he and the ex-clown seek to outrun disaster. Drystan persuades his old friend Jasper Maske, a once-renowned magician, to take them in. But when he agrees to teach them his trade, Maske is challenged to the ultimate high-stakes duel by his embittered arch-nemesis.
Micah must perfect his skills of illusion, while navigating a tender new love. An investigator is also hunting the person he once seemed to be – a noble family’s runaway daughter. As the duel draws near, Micah increasingly suffers from visions showing him real magic and future terrors. Events that broke the ancient world are being replayed. But can Micah’s latent powers influence this deadly pattern?
Originally from sunny California, L.R. Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. Lam is a Sunday Times Bestselling author whose work includes epic fantasy romance Dragonfall (The Dragon Scales Trilogy), the near-future space thriller, Goldilocks, feminist space opera Seven Devils and Seven Mercies (co-written with Elizabeth May), BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, and the award-winning Micah Grey series: Pantomime, Shadowplay, and Masquerade.
Their short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty Women, Solaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, Scotland in Space, and more. Their romance alter ego is Laura Ambrose. Lam lectures part-time at Edinburgh Napier University and is Programme Leader of the Creative Writing MA.
I loved Pantomime when I read it last year, it had the most wonderfully diverse characters that I completely fell in love with and I couldn't wait to catch up with them in Shadowplay. The story picks up immediately where we left off with Micha and Drystan on the run and desperately needing a place to hide out after what happened to them. Drystan takes them to the run down Kymri Theatre and his old friend Jasper Maske agrees to let them stay. After helping them find disguises Maske also agrees to teach them magic to give them a new way to earn a living now they can no longer perform in the circus.
I'll admit I was a bit disappointed when I realised that this story was going to have a different setting. I loved the circus in the first book, from the crazy eccentric characters we got to meet through to the tales of the performances and Micha's adventures on the high wire, it was just so much fun to read. Although I could understand why a change of scenery was necessary I was still worried that the story would lose some of the magic. Thankfully that isn't the case and although this story is very different it was just as good as the first book. We are treated to a new kind of magic in the form of illusions and seances that was just as exciting to read about and I'd quite like to have magic lessons with Maske myself.
The much smaller cast at the theatre allows us to get to know the different characters so much better. Micha is one of my favourite fictional characters ever, he has been through so much in such a short amount of time and has grown so much since we first met him. I loved seeing Micha become more comfortable in his own skin and accept both sides of his personality. It was also wonderful to see him open up to Drystan as they grow closer. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love Micha and Drystan together, the way their friendship develops and slowly starts to blossom into something much more is just delightful to see and I can't get enough of them. They are both struggling to deal with the emotional fallout of previous events but it was great to see them lean on each other and get through it together. I also really enjoyed getting to know Maske and Cyan, both characters have their secrets and hidden talents so it was great to start uncovering them even though I'm sure we have a lot more to learn.
Another thing Shadowplay does is really start to give us a bit more information about the world Laura Lam has created outside of the circus and the theatre. We get to learn a lot more about the history of Ellada and of the chimera which I found really interesting. There are definitely exciting things to come on that front and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book to discover more! If you enjoyed Pantomime you're going to love Shadowplay just as much. If you haven't started the series yet then it's one I can't recommend highly enough. If you want a YA series with a wonderful fantasy setting full of magic and intrigue along with incredible and boundary pushing characters who you will immediately fall in love with then you need to pick up Pantomime today!
I'm so glad I decided to reread this before starting Masqurade, I'd forgotten so much of what happened. I still adore Micha and Drystan but I also love the addition of Cyan (don't worry, there are no signs of a love triangle!) and I really enjoyed the additional world building. I can't believe I forgot that it ended on such a cliffhanger though and I'm really glad that I finally have my hands on the sequel so I can find out how Micha's story ends!
In this middle volume of the Pantomime trilogy, the setting/action moves from the circus to a magic (prestidigitation) show.
I really enjoyed learning more about the lands where the story is set, and more about Kedis, Chimaeras, and other mystical/magical beings. I loved the budding romance between Micah and Drystan, and Micah's shyness and tentativeness as he tries to adjust to and reconcile his dual-gender nature and how that affects his relationships with other people.
I was less fond of the shades-of-The Prestige competition between two magicians, and of the less-personal and more political plus save-or-end-the-world epic drama turn the story took at the end.
Still, I have the final book in the trilogy sitting on my to-read pile already. Micah, I'm with you to the end, and I hope it's a good ride.
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.
I thought the pace could have been a bit faster, and I'm really intrigued to find out more about Micah's past and this whole storyline with the Chimaera and Anisa. The cliffhanger was not as cruel as the one in the first book, so I suppose the wait for Masquerade won't be TOO painful for me.
This review will barely do justice to the book and its sheer excellence, because I am having to reign in my inner fanboy and go easy on the complete author love, here. There’s a lot of fanboy to contain, trust me. Shadowplay is the second of the Micah Grey books (and hell, I fear a revolt if there are not more!) and it not only continues on beautifully from where its predecessor Pantomime left off in taking us on a magical journey through a Victorian-esque world that could almost be ours, yet isn’t, revealing slowly and deliciously more and more and more about the history of Ellada and what bearing the deep past can have on the very near present, but it further reveals the heart and soul of Micah Grey, constantly resonating with themes of acceptance, confidence and identity.
With their lives in the circus in tatters, Micah and Drystan must flee, seeking refuge with the only person whom Drystan thinks he can trust in the whole of Imachara. The washed-up magician, Jasper Maske has not performed magic for years, due to an old grudge that was harshly settled all those years ago, whilst his rival flourishes on the stage with his grandsons, performing so many of the beloved tricks that Maske and his rival developed themselves when they worked together instead of against the other. But this has nothing to do with Micah and Drystan, who simply need to hide from the policiers and the accusations of murder that will follow them from the circus following the double murder that occurred.
Still nursing a broken heart, Micah’s spirits are shattered. Never mind that during the first night with Maske and during a séance he insists on holding, Micah has a vision that he simply cannot understand or fathom. It must have something to do with his being a special case, how the Penglass reacts to his touch and all the other small things that he has never really thought about until now—until he meets someone else like himself. Micah will soon discover just it is he might be and that he is definitely not alone.
Soon, magic and performance become Micah’s life and he finds that he hungered for show business after the circus life he had so carefully nurtured was torn from him so suddenly. Drystan and Micah become Maske’s assistants and begin to learn everything from this master of magic. Of course, the option to leave Imachara for good still hangs over their heads as they take refuge in Maske’s old and dusty Kymri theatre, hiding from the public eye wearing magical disguises and hoping not to be recognised somehow from their likenesses that have been circulating. Then, of course, there’s still the Shadow to think about.
Before Micah knows it, his heart and his head are in disarray: between visions and cryptic messages about what he is, all mixed together with blossoming feelings of love, Micah has a lot to think about. Not least of all the fact that a Chimera keeps telling him the world is going to end and he will have to save it. Only, he hasn’t really got a clue how and the world doesn’t seem in peril… unless you count the growing ire of the Foresters, who are rallying louder and louder against the Twelve Trees and the rigid, lofty monarchy of Imachara. With the Princess Royal only a child and her uncle pulling the strings from behind, there is a lot the Foresters have to complain about. But are they going about it the right way and will the actions of their charismatic leader have any bearing on the future of the world at large?
In Shadowplay Lam has created a platform onto which a deeper and far wider reaching plot will grow and spread, eclipsing any semblance of normality in Micah’s life, demonstrating that a book can be a success starting out as a slice-of-life story about one person and one person alone, and transform into something bigger in the blink of an eye. Stuff happens that we can’t always see, things that suddenly appear on the stage uninvited and unexpected. Lam captures perfectly sense of being swept up in something far bigger and far more complex than oneself, without the automatic urge to bend and be swept away. Micah has a level-headed approach to everything that happens around him and this creates a genuinely realistic character whose life is heading in one direction, his destiny in another. The two will meet eventually, but Micah will plot his own course as much as he can. And he does. Yet there is no sense of a “chosen one” despite the constant reiteration that Micah can save the world. Everything is about cause and effect and consequence, and moreover, evil and darkness behind the scenes. Protagonists have lives and do not spend all day peeking behind the black curtain at the back and sides to see if trouble will appear.
There is a great sense of real life in the Micah Grey books and it’s one of the things I love most about Lam and her writing, her world. Most of all, I love that Micah is Micah, with no compromises. The message this sends is necessary and powerful. Furthermore, Micah will discover that difference can be irrelevant. What you are does not automatically shape your identity; who you are is what matters.
Pantomime will always have a special place in my heart, but Shadowplay has outdone even that and presented a deliciously exciting story with so much meaning and mystery. Nothing is clear come the end of Shadowplay, save only that things are set to become very complicated. Lam’s focus on characters is absolutely perfect, with everything performed against the backdrop of a lost and confusing world glimpsed only through echoes of the past and dreams and visions, and a magic contest that the whole city will be watching. Vestige could be magic, it could be technology. There is so much we do not know; there is so much Micah does not know. This complete lack of reader omniscience is ideal for a story where the characters very much so come first.
Shadowplay is a gorgeously written novel with so big a heart the pages can barely contain it. There is scope and ambition and a very clear sense that Lam knows precisely what she’s doing; the perfect author-puppeteer behind Micah’s stage. There is a sense of rightness about how everything unfolds, as though Micah’s life is set on invisible tracks, heading towards a point in the distance that only Lam knows. Everything in Shadowplay is paced and presented just as it should be, with mystery and intrigue, romance and a deep hatred between old rivals.
In short: Lam is a genius, she writes beautifully and everything about this book was a complete and absolute pleasure. If you loved the circus, you’ll fall in love with the complex and fascinating world behind the stage of Shadowplay and the Kymri theatre Micah now calls home.
Shadowplay is a book filled with magic and a world that's being built more and more with very interesting lore and mythological inspiration. This was a really great continuation of this trilogy! I enjoyed following Micah's journey from the circus to the magic show, and I really loved the new characters of Maske and Cyan. The world is so fascinating, I love the chimaera elements which are quite Daughter of Smoke and Bone-esque, which is one of my all time favourite series, so that pleased me. Some aspects of the backstory involving this are a little confusing but I'm hoping the third book will answer questions that I have. I liked how in this book, along with gender and sexuality, the characters also begin to deal more with the ideas of racism and class division, with the main character starting to understand the privilege he grew up with and being confronted more with that. I feel like the political parts of the series are definitely getting more prominent.
The only issue I have is that unless I read it wrong, Drystan is 6 years older than Micah who is 16-17? That makes their relationship a bit uhh, questionable. I love what they have but an adult with someone who is definitely not an adult yet is a bit creepy regardless of how well they get along.
This trilogy is so unique and has representation I've never read before (intersex bisexual main character). I definitely recommend it!
There are spoilers ahead for Pantomime. Micah and Drystan have fled the circus and found refuge with an aging magician, Jasper Maske, who has been banned for a lifetime from performing magic. When Maske agrees to teach them stage magic, they’re challenged to a high stakes duel with the protegees of Maske’s former nemesis. In the meantime, Micah and Drystan are still being pursued by the Shadow and the Policiers for crimes they didn’t commit, and Micah is having strange visions of a world long dead. Note: I’m going to continue to use he/him pronouns for Micah since that’s the identity he’s chosen in this book, although he notes that he doesn’t feel completely like either gender. If in future books he chooses other pronouns, I’ll switch to those. Trigger warnings: violence, injury, interphobia, infidelity, blackmail, threats, self-image issues.
Shadowplay is a smoother read than Pantomime, as if Lam has found her stride within this world. I found the setting at Maske’s crumbling theater and the pair learning stage magic more compelling than the circus setting. It’s certainly simpler, with fewer characters to keep track of, no harassment, and more chances for developing the relationships among Micah, Drystan, and Maske, which are stronger than any in the previous novel. Unlike Aenea, Micah’s friendship with Drystan is built on trust and honesty (and let’s be real, I’ve shipped them from the beginning). Maske is also an interesting character with a mysterious past, almost paternal in his mentoring.
On a pacing level, it works better too. There are no back and forth timelines here, so we’re able to stick with the same characters on the same path for the entire book. The only interruptions are Micah’s odd visions into a past race of beings. I wasn’t that interested in that subplot, but it expands on the world-building and sets up what I suspect will be the major over-arching plot of the series and the main conflict of the final book. I was bracing myself for bloodshed at the end, since Pantomime ended on such a grim note, but I ended up really liking the direction it takes in Shadowplay. I definitely recommend it for fans of circus settings/magicians and for anyone looking for more genderqueer representation.
I review regularly at brightbeautifulthings.tumblr.com.
So many things going on, so much to figure out, so(too) much going on in poor Gene Micah Sam's head. Shadows after Gene, mysterious clients of the aforementioned shadows, policiers after Micah and Drystan, political unrest, supernaturally cosmic changes, flashbacks of creatures that exist no more, the paranormal aspect of the now, learning the art of stage-magic to pass the time and compete against a rival... I'm sure I must have missed out on one thing or the other.
Shadowplay starts literally in the wake of Pantomime's kick off of dust. Ms Lam's upgraded her setting to a dilapidated, broken, out-of-business magician's theater. The lack of hustle-bustle, camp fires, quirky circus folks, audience, glitter and the rest was a huge disappointment; I'd initially thought being in a magician's shadow would provide an even more authentic and, more importantly, fun flair but it was not so. Contributing factor would the extent to which every act, magic trickery is explained, every nuance told in clinical terms and no left stones unturned underneath which magic could have been lurking.
The outline of the two books is very similar, and that makes the turns rather predictable, if not the actual events. Running, hiding, working enthusiastically/feverishly, revelations ho!, work work work and build up to an awesome show of all that we've learned that, at least this time, we didn't miss much of. Before we has a pantomime, this time it's a magic show.
Gene Micah Sam's accepted his personality for the most part and the one element missing is the confusion on gender identity, which made up an integral part of Pantomime. One of the better things I liked personally about Shadowplay was the clearance of the Kedi issue. In Pantomime, Micah was under the impression(from ignorance, improper info etc.) that people like Micah,, were magic creatures and special and worshiped in the early days. Now Micah's told in no uncertain terms that his anatomy has nothing to with his powers, that people can be intersexual regardless of their species- humans, Elder, chimera. Seriously, if I have to pick my favorite moment this would be it 'cause I was offended by this misconception in Pantomime. He's now become a more freer person, who has no inhibitions about dressing up in skirts and longs for it a bit, nor does she want to abandon the freedom of trousers altogether.
I had been rooting for Drystan the White Clown who was secretive, funny, tart and all that in the first book. However, now I think he's lost his charm. While he's given a lot of screen time, yet there's very little of him. Once he gives up his secret, I think he fades into the background. There's not enough of it that the romance overshadows the plot, but there's way too little. I could detect no chemistry between the two, no unfurling of love and it's a complete mystery to me how they fell for each other. Sure, there were words and hints and fumbling hands, but I didn't feel the zing. And no, it's not because it was meant to be a soft and subtle love.
Like I said before, too many elements. While most of these were given their due representation and chasing after, the social issue wasn't properly integrated into the storyline, ultimately leading to shaky world building of Ellada. It stuck out like Umbridge amidst good people, normal people. Another thing is that the two many things to catch and research and find more about led to threads of thought that ended, and were immediately followed by one entirely unrelated to the previous. All this persevered to create only a cluttered and chaotic effect. Moreover, the flashes from the past took away a lot and consumed too much time; due to them, the pace of story kept being interrupted and frankly, they were hard to get through.
A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey.
True, Shadowplay is all that but the mayonnaise of this sandwich has been replaced by hardened cheese which clumps together in places, and barely, barely, manages to hold it together.
I know I've made it sound like Shadowplay's not worth reading for fans of Pantomime except it is, if you were really into Micah/Gene's story. It had its moments where it shone but for those who had mild, inbetween feelings about it, I think you should forgo this book. This cheese won't be a good substitute for you guys.
Many thanks to Strange Chemistry for providing a review copy.
Pantomime was a great book. Shadowplay is a continuation of it, and provides more of the same. This is in no way a bad thing, but it does make it harder to talk about than I thought was possible.
You see when I first reviewed Pantomime I was enthralled. To begin it was a perfectly enjoyable fantasy novel with all the fixins; young character on the run joins a slightly magical circus in a slightly magical land. Not really heavy in the fantasy elements, though it of course had those little details to set the world apart (ancient history, unbreakable ruins, dragonfly fairies). But it had something to set it apart. Protagonist Micah was actually unique. A few discussions have been held on if this is a spoiler or not but I have maintained it is not; Micah grew up as Gene, and is an intersex teen. And this could have been nothing more than a gimmick, but instead was handled the right way. (My review is here, so I don’t have to rehash all my thoughts).
So the uniqueness of the main character, underrepresented as it is, is no longer a surprise nor unique. This is just the nature of expectations, and in fact is probably a good thing. By refusing to treat Micah’s unique nature as a gimmick some of the newness has left the story; but the fact is it is even easier to just see Micah as the great character he is. While I tried to look at Pantomime as the story it is on its own, there can be no doubt that so much of my thoughts were colored by seeing something I had not in fantasy before. (Though I am sure this is due not to what’s available, but rather my limited exposure to LBTG in speculative fiction).
So with Shadowplay I get to spend more time on the story itself. Because in this one Micah isn’t living in such a fear of discovery, his nature is known by the close circle he works with. So his struggles are a little less unique, though no less interesting. He is still being stalked by a Shadow, a mysterious hunter tracking him for various possible parties. He and fellow fugitive Drystan are wanted for murder and the best way out seems to be hiding with a failed magician. Of course this is going to lead to a magic show. Good times for all.
Which leads me back to my original problem; I don’t really know what else to say about this book. It was a good continuation of the story and like any good middle book started answering the mysteries the first books left us. Much more fantastical this time around we slowly are unraveling the mysterious of the Chimera that left the land, and the penglass that liters the landscape. The inevitable magic show was and the lead up to it were entertaining. I was pleased to see a third character join the show (young girl with her own secrets), letting Micah avoid being the main character who does EVERYTHING important.
I can say that the fantastical elements have been raised. We caught glimpses of what was unique about this land in the first book, but in Shadowplay we see that Micah isn’t the only one special in this land (and I was reassured that Micah’s genitalia wasn’t going to turn into a magical gimmick like I feared may be the direction we were heading). My thoughts that this was a future Earth proved to be false as the history of the land was expanded on, including some explanations for the mysterious Chimaera and the Penglass that litters the land.
I found it to be a slow mover, despite a fair bit of action. I wasn’t as big a fan of the flashbacks in this one; sure it gives us some history and may prove important but so far it felt more like extra filler. And I wonder if there will be a new trade to be learned per book. Not complaining, just wondering if that is going to become this series’ thing. This was obviously a middle book; add a character, get some backstory, but don’t really make huge strides forward.
Consider me still impressed by this series, if not as raving as I was the first time, it is still in my top five YA series going at this point. The next book can’t come fast enough, I doubt I will ever tire of Micah and can’t wait to finally get some answers.
*Received in exchange for an honest review* *Thanks goes to Strange Chemistry* *May contain spoilers for Pantomime*
Ahhhhh I loved this book! Having read and really enjoyed Pantomime I was so eager to get my hands on Shadowplay. I don't think I've quite calmed myself down enough to be writing this review yet. It felt like such a different book from Pantomime yet so similar. I really enjoyed Laura's first book but this one blasted it straight out of the water. It's in this book that I fully fell in love with Micah and Drystan, Cyan and Maske. I feel like I've left some best friends behind in the pages of Shadowplay and I hope that we will be reunited in the future.
Shadowplay picks up where Pantomime left off - Micah and Drystan are in hiding following the death of Bil. They're wanted for his murder but Shadows are also stalking Micah in order to return him to his home as Lady Iphigenia Laurus. They seek refuge with the once great magician, Jasper Maske. Shocking and thrilling events unfold which keep readers on their toes and wondering about what is to come next for these characters. I often found myself with yet another case of 'just one more chapter...' whenever I went to put the book down with so many chapters endings urging you to read on. I really couldn't get enough of Micah's story.
Laura's second novel draws in more the fantasy feel with further introductions to the chimera and the future that faces Micah. It was so thrilling to be drawn so entirely into this world. I felt like this place existed as I was reading it, and felt disappointed yet relieved (to an extent) that it doesn't. With certain characters with such powers unfurling, I'm really excited to see where Lam takes this. I loved seeing the developments in the relationships between Micah and Drystan, and I also loved seeing the budding friendship of our four protagonists - in particular, the mysterious Cyan. This book held so much emotion and excitement - it really is an unputdownable read.
The further exploration of Micah as an intersex character was so interesting to me as a past MA student and I found myself wishing that I could go back to write an essay on both Pantomime and Shadowplay. Laura handles the topic of the discrimination and repression of those that are intersex so well and sensitively. Micah's anxiety, worries and attempts to look for explanations are so heartfelt and emotional. Micah is constantly searching for answers as to why he was born the way he is. I found this so difficult to read; to see a character that has had the notion that to be intersex is to be unnatural so deeply ingrained that he can't see how beautiful he truly is. How being intersex is entirely normal and natural. It's the first series that I've read that deals with this issue and it's done beautifully.
I adored this book. Shadowplay is thrilling, page-turning, captivating and so emotional. I couldn't put it down. With the promise of a gaslight fantasy, Laura Lam certainly doesn't let us down. Props to you, Laura - I loved it!
PANTOMIME was one of my favorite books last year. I even nominated it for the Cybils, where it is now a finalist. SHADOWPLAY picks up right where PANTOMIME leaves off, with Micah and Drystan on the run and looking for a place to stay. It had been awhile since I'd read PANTOMIME, so I was a bit lost at sea until I read further and things started coming back to me.
Laura Lam really ramps up the worldbuilding in SHADOWPLAY. Much more is explained about the Phantom Damselfly and her history as well as how it connects to Micah. A new character, Cyan, is introduced. Her story intersects with Micah and Drystan's in a much deeper way than it would appear when she first joins them. The three become apprentices to a magician, Jasper Maske, all hiding in plain side and developing skills of illusion. It continues and transforms the circus theme of PANTOMIME. Plus, Maske gets them tangled up in a magician's duel, which is cool in an entirely different way from ancient magic and hiding from shady bounty hunters.
As for Micah's personal journey, he's much more comfortable with who he is and his body. (I'm using male pronouns in this review because Micah presents himself as a male during most of SHADOWPLAY.) He still has to deal with the emotional fallout from the events at the climax of PANTOMIME as well as his growing closer to the mysterious Drystan. (And yes, a great deal of Drystan's past is revealed.) It feels like a very natural progression, and a welcome one. Micah is growing up, which is good since he has some big decisions ahead of him.
I don't think SHADOWPLAY would make much sense to someone who hasn't read PANTOMIME. In fact, trying as I have to not spoil anything, I doubt this review makes much sense to someone who hasn't read PANTOMIME. So read PANTOMIME and then SHADOWPLAY because this series is full speed ahead. Lam drops a couple of plot twists in the last chapter that put the final pieces in to play. I can't wait to see how this series ends!
Shadowplay continues Micah and Drystan's story, right after the left the circus and join Maske's theatre. I liked this idea, as I felt that more of the same would quickly bore me. A new fresh setting was a great idea and introducing new characters and new challenges - like learning magic - really paid off and kept me reading, finishing the book in two sittings.
The attention grabber of this series is that Micah is bisexual and intersex. However, this isn't just used as a gimmick, Micah really continues to struggle with identity in this book, knowing he could go back to his parents at any moment but they will try and change him into the ideal daughter they always wanted but never had.
The romance that was hinted at between Micah and Drystan in the first book blossomed in this one and it was really sweet too, Micah and Drystan were one of my favourite couples in Pantomime, even if they weren't actually together yet. I was very happy when they realised their feelings for one another!
The world building continues in this book and I don't think I've even been in such a richly imagined world as Ellada. We learn a whole lot more about it's history and it's people, the Chimera. Meanwhile in the present The Foresters make quite a few appearances with their often violent protests. I think we'll be seeing them a lot more in the next book!
Pantomime blew my mind with it's uniqueness. It was one of those young adult fantasy novels that you can recommend only to real fantasy connoisseurs looking for something different.
Still great: + Beautiful descriptions + Unique characters + Intriguing setting. Especially those penglass domes no one can open. I keep wondering what secrets they hide within'. + After circus now we get behind the scenes of magic shows. I always like to hear how magic tricks are really performed.
Could have been better: - The plot dragged out. - Too many questions left unanswered. - I expected that relationship between Micah and Drystan would evolve more...
After awesome first book, the second book in Micah Grey series felt disappointingly average, if we ignore beautiful writing and unique characters. I hope the next book will be better.
"“An excellent read that continues the fine form set by Pantomime, Shadowplay gets 2014 off to a great start and makes Laura Lam an unmissable author with two excellent hits. I could not put this book down, and you won’t be able to as well.”" ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"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…
A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey."
I was first drawn to Pantomime when I saw it on NetGalley mainly because of the Circus setting. Aside from Haly’s Circus and Nightwing in DC Comics, and Darren Shan’s Cirque Du Freak Saga I haven’t really read any Circus-set books and my decision to review Pantomime was largely based on that, and it’s a choice that I ended up being really glad that I made, because the book was a delight to read, making it on my way to the best of the year lists before the year had even started – as it was due out this last year. And the same is probably going to be said again with Shadowplay, Laura Lam’s excellent followup to the events of Pantomime that is frankly, unmissable for all readers of good young adult fiction. Strange Chemistry haven’t put a bad book in my direction yet (although there has been the odd book that I didn’t like as much as they should) and along with Jo Fletcher Books they certainly have some of the best track record for me right now.
In the sequel however, the action moves away from the Circus as Drystan and Micah flee for their lives, now wanted. If you’ve ever been an outsider among a group of peers or rooted for outsiders in fiction in the past, then Shadowplay will be a good book for you, much like Pantomime was. Drystan and Micah are both outsiders, and this series will be right up your street. However, even if you’ve never fallen into that category, I strongly recommend checking out this book anyway, because it’s just such a good read. I couldn’t put it down – and I’m glad that 2014′s releases got off to an incredibly good start with this novel.
Shadowplay manages to balance the feeling of treading on familiar ground and exploring new areas. The split narrative between Gene and Micah is now gone, and Micah here seems to be much more comfortable with his sexuality in this book. Micah’s grown as a character considerably since the opening pages of Pantomime and it’s very interesting to see his story unfold, as he’s certainly someone who you’ll want to root for. The other character that gets more pagetime in this book is Drystan and he benefits as a result of this, growing on you as a character just as Micah did. Both will leave an impression on you by the end though, there’s no doubt about that.
The worldbuilding of Ellada is also fleshed out as well in this sequel. If you felt that it was too mysterious and not enough was revealed about it then this book should correct any problems that you’ve had with it, with the history of Ellada being expanded on for the reader and the opening quotes at the beginning of the Chapter help you know a little bit more about the world that Lam has created. Sometimes it’s hard to get the balance between worldbuilding and plot development right however and that’s where many authors fail in their second books of the same series, and this is particularly the case with epic fantasy books. However, I’m safe to say that Shadowplay doesn’t fall into that trap – it gets the balance between world development and plot development right and there was never any moments where the pace felt like it was too slow.
If I had one complaint about Shadowplay is that it, like Pantomime ends on a cliffhanger, and now the wait begins for the next book. I’m generally not the biggest fan of cliffhangers (one of the things that put me off the second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire) but for me It didn’t throw me off as much as it normally does here, mainly because what has followed before was such a strong read that it didn’t matter as much as it would have done if I didn’t like the previous book.
Shadowplay is a well written and compelling second novel that will not disappoint fans of Pantomime, as Laura Lam creates one of the more unique and unorthadox books of 2014 already that should not be missed under any circumstances by readers of young adult fiction who have already experienced Pantomime. It’s an incredibly good read – and this book has almost certainly found its way onto My Top 25 Novels of 2014 already. Highly recommended.
For some reason, while my local library has a pretty extensive collection, they seem oddly lacking in books from smaller publishers and books from Bay Area writers - of which the second Micah Grey novel qualifies as both. Thankfully, Berkeley Public Library had a copy which I could special order.
Micah and Drystan spend this book in the company of magicians - similar ilk to Pantomime's circus performers, so it's not too different from the first book. However, Lam keeps things interesting with our performing heroes' ongoing "on the lam" (excuse my pun) storyline following the events of Pantomime. Flashbacks are less frequent, and instead we get a few more scenes where Drystan talks about his past. I especially liked the one where he talked about how much of a rebel he was in his younger days. As for Micah, he embraces his non-binary identity more strongly in this book, freely dressing in masculine or feminine clothes as needed. More than ever, I find myself wondering which pronouns I should use to refer to Micah - I'm still leaning more towards male ones, but that's more out of habit than anything else after having done so in my head all throughout the first book, while using female pronouns to refer to Gene before she ran away from home.
Another excellent part of this book is the romance between Micah and Drystan. I expected it to build up in this book, and happily, I found it to be a slow burn, consisting largely of scenes of the two of them cuddling at night and being awkward in the best of ways. (And sometimes, not the best of ways, but those not-best of ways are a bit spoilery.) At least once, Micah talks about craving human contact - making him once again so very much relatable to me, as I've been single all my life and am thus always starved for affection.
The strong and satisfying romance gives this book a far sweeter ending than its predecessor. No spoilers, of course. All I will say is that I'm glad I won't have to wait such a long time for Book 3, as I would have if I'd discovered these books sooner.
The much anticipated second installment from Laura Lam. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, and was longing to read this one. I had this on order from amazon, but was too impatient to read it so I picked up a second copy from the bookstore. I do not feel that this is money wasted as I devoured the book within hours of getting a spare moment to read it. The character development in this volume showed much growth from the author as a builder. Not one aspect of the book was flat or grossly underdeveloped. The connections and relationships in this story are actually believable too. I have read a great many a book in the past that, while enjoyable to the point, lacked in the department of being able to draw me into the world of the writer's creation. Reading Shadowplay was akin to being able to cross through the wall at Platform 9 3/4 in HP. It was just "Woah.."
Four Stars: A smart, complex and intriguing series.
Micah and Drystan are in hiding after the devastating events that transpired their last night at the circus. The pair are wanted for the murder of the ringmaster. Drystan seeks shelter with an old friend Jasper Maske. Maske is a washed up magician, unable to perform magic, living in a dilapidated old theatre. Maske agrees to hide Micah and Drystan for three months. During that time, Maske will teach Drystan and Micah magic. Immediately, Micah begins having visions. In the depths of the old theatre, secrets swirl and mysteries abound. Will Micah find the truth behind the visions? What I Liked: *This review will be spoiler free, but if you have not read Pantomime, I highly recommend reading it before investigating this book. There is a big and rather shocking reveal in the first book. It is best if you discover the stunning secret on your own rather than having it spoiled by reviews. I can tell you that this series is unlike anything I have read before. The main character alone with his unique condition is something you should experience. Add in the magic, the world building, the settings of the circus and the magic show, along with interesting and engaging characters and you have a solid foundation for an exceptional series. *I fell in love with the circus in Pantomime so I was a bit disappointed that the circus was left behind. However, I shouldn't have worried as this time around I was plunged into the mysterious world of magic and seances. I loved the old theatre, the illusions and the tragic magician Jasper Maske. It was exciting learning more about the tricks of how illusions and seances were performed. I liked that the magic was mostly based on illusion, but yet there was a hint of real magic as well. I was swept away by the exciting and enchanting world of magic. It was thrilling to watch Micah, Drystan and Cyan learn the tricks of the trade and take on the successors of Maske's old rival in a magician's dual. Once again, Ms. Lam has done an exceptional job with her setting. *The world building solidifies and strengthens in this book. Micah lives in a world littered with vestiges which are magical relics from a golden age long past. These relics along with giant penlights are the remains of a great and magical society that mysteriously disappeared. The vestiges are fueled by magic which is slowly running out. Micah is in possession of one of these vestiges. He has a small disc with the a strange damselfly woman trapped inside. This damselfly has some astounding secrets that shed light on the past and how the magic left the world. I was intrigued by the world building and loved that it grew stronger with this book. *I was pleased to see even more growth with Micah. Micah is still struggling with his unique identity. However, he is becoming more comfortable in his body and learning to trust others. It takes him awhile to warm up to the newcomer Cyan, but soon he earns another friend. I loved watching this friendship grow and develop. Micah has an interesting and perplexing condition. There is further information on why he is the way he is that helped me to better come to terms with him. I can't go into too many details here or I will give away the enormous secret. I will say that I appreciated the further clarification and I am enjoying seeing Micah evolve. I am most curious to see how he will solidify his identity in the future. *I liked getting to know Jasper Maske and Cyan. Maske has a tragic history and he is a broken down magician who lost everything. I loved learning more about him and watching him fight for redemption. Cyan is a lost girl who like Micah, has some interesting abilities. She also is running from her parents and her past. It takes awhile to get to know her and trust her, but once I fully understood her character, I loved her. I thought both Jasper and Cyan were two terrific inclusions. And The Not So Much: *The pacing of this book is a bit slow. After Micah and Drystan settle in at the the theatre, not a lot happens. There is a great deal of ground work being laid and lots of explanation, but the excitement and action is low key up until the big magician's dual. At that point, things take off leading up to a thrilling conclusion. This book does require a bit of patience as it spends time developing the story, molding the characters and world building. *There are numerous dreams and visions scattered throughout the book. At first, I found them to be very confusing, but by the end, as things solidified I was able to see the purpose and piece things together. I have to admit, dream sequences and visions are not my favorite way to gain information. *The romance is a bit lackluster. This is a hard romance to explain, again because I don't want to divulge too much information. It is begins as a hesitant friendship and moves into trust and then something more. Words of comfort, a hug to soothe a nightmare, a look, a kiss, but that is about it. I am most curious to learn more about how the suitor views Micah. While it is apparent that Micah's condition is not an issue with the relationship, which I think is refreshing, I want desperately to know more. This is definitely not a series with a strong romance. At least there isn't a love triangle. *Drystan was such an exciting and interesting character in the first book. He is the bad boy clown who harbors some big secrets. In this book, once he divulges his hidden truths, he fades into the shadows. Yes, he is there, but he doesn't have much of a role. Instead the spotlight moves to Cyan. I missed his bold character in this one. *This book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. It isn't a jarring ending like in the first book, and thankfully, many of the story lines are resolved. However, there is a shocking reveal at the end that left me eager to know more.
Shadowplay is a solid sequel that doesn't falter under the middle book syndrome. It moves the story forward, develops the characters and strengthens the world building. This is a smart, unique, intriguing and entertaining series. I highly recommend you go back and read Pantomime before learning more about this series so you can experience the startling secrets for yourself. I am most impressed by this series, and I cannot wait to see how it continues to develop.
Favorite Quotations: "Is it ghosts that truly haunt us, or the memory of our own mistakes that we wish we could undo?"
"Just because you want something does not mean it is yours to take.' she said. "Especially when it is something as complex as a women's heart."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review. Posted@Rainy Day Ramblings.
NB Shadowplay is the sequel to Pantomime, so this review contains spoilers for that book. It is possible to read Shadowplay without having read Pantomime as the key information about events is reviewed as it is touched upon, but - even though this is better - I would recommend reading Pantomime first.
Also, this book was provided to me for no monies by the kind peoples at Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry, facilitated in this act of goodness/marketing by the mighty NetGalley.
The short non-spoilery version of this review: Yeah. It was pretty good. If your tastes run to YA (which mine don't), make this 4 stars.
As I said in my review of Pantomime, Jonathan Franzen needs more velociraptors in his books if he wants me to read them. I also mentioned something about not being the target audience for YA and due to that, was not going to complain (for once) about things I dislike but which are fine within, or expected of, the genre. The same holds true for Shadowplay: I may personally find it lacks *adjective*, but I'd say that about Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games. I'm 32. I have a limited capacity for showing enthusiasm for most YA stories. By the end of The Hunger Games I was mostly annoyed at how ineffectively the government was run. If I was in charge of a dystopian regime whose existence was threatened by a teenager who had become a symbol of hope for the oppressed masses, I'd arrange for her to choke to death on caviare during a secret tête a tête with a very rich government minister. This is why you must all do your utmost to stop me seizing power after the revolution happens.
So why am I reading Shadowplay then? Because the last 20% of Pantomime made me want to, and I originally picked up Pantomime because it was 99p. Also because I was interested in reading a book with an intersex main character, because I vaguely know Laura through AbsoluteWrite, and because her agent has had a full MS from me before now and I intend to statistically analyse everything she reps in order to create the irresistible project for next time. It's going to involve miniature crime-solving circus hamsters who moonlight as postmen and enjoy yoghurt.
Shadowplay picks up directly from Pantomime's cliffhanger which saw Micah and Drystan studiously doing their utmost to avoid the various people keen to track them down for reasons to do with murdering, blinding, arson, thievery, and refusing to have your gentleman's bits sliced off. They seek refuge with an old friend of Drystan's, the magician Jasper Maske, then stay with him to learn the trade he no longer practices. They are joined at Maske's by the young lady on the book's rather gorgeous cover, Cyan, and the three are dragged into a duel with Maske's rival which, as the blurb rather portentously puts it, will decide their fates.
In structure then, some similarities to its predecessor: Pantomime was concerned with Micah learning to perform in the circus, Shadowplay is concerned with him learning to perform magic tricks. Where Pantomime was slowed somewhat by the division of the narrative between Micah at the circus and the story of how he came to run away from his life as noble's daughter Iphigenia Laurus, Shadowplay keeps its storylines more closely intertwined and, as a result, stuff actually happens. Which is good.
For me, the stronger of the two storylines is the one the blurb doesn't go into. For that reason I won't either except to say it concerns Micah and the unusual talents he displayed in Pantomime, and it is *very* engaging. The duel and the various parts to do with it didn't work for me for several reasons - a magicians' duel is not a new idea and this one doesn't bring much to the party beyond the specifics of the book's world. I also felt the stakes to be weak, that failure would be a hassle rather than a disaster, but then that says much for the characters Lam has created: I really felt like they'd cope.
I have praise for Lam's character development - where Pantomime's Micah was terrified of anybody finding out what he was, and spent a little too long for my taste internally proclaiming he was a freak, Shadowplay's Micah has begun to accept what he is, even though he doesn't know what that is. At times I found the emotion a tad thin, particularly at the grief-sozzled beginning, but the interactions between the various characters develop naturally, Micah's concerns about those new to him feeling authentic rather than throwaway. Kudos, also, for Lam's ability to do what eludes so many aspiring (and a decent smattering of bestselling) writers: writing the character rather than the gender.
I also really liked the world building. Shadowplay gives us more of the land of Ellada and the socio-political forces beginning to make themselves felt. There are beginnings here, stories which will hopefully come to the fore later in the series and I'm looking forward it. Lam inspires confidence that she knows what she's doing and where she's taking this. I may not have liked the book's story - which was also true of Pantomime - but the larger series story is epic, and detailed, and the ending - which again, is also true of Pantomime - has a bit of a "Gah! Why did you have to drop that in and stop there?!" about it...
...which is only good while you're reading it. Neither Shadowplay nor Pantomime are standalone novels - both end on cliffhangers - and both left me feeling unfulfilled. There was no feeling of triumph, or disappointment, or comprehension, or any of the other things I feel when finishing a book. Instead I'm left in a state of mild irritation. Once the series is complete, or at least more established, this will probably feel like a strength. Right now it doesn't.
Shadowplay builds on the good foundation Pantomime gave it, developing the ideas and beginning to give this series more of a stand-out identity. While on the surface some of these ideas - like the magician's duel - are rather too similar to something I've seen/heard/read/played before, the book never feels derivative. For somebody who isn't a 32 year-old repository for useless facts, the target audience for instance, it's unlikely to be a issue. My biggest gripe about its predecessor remains: the reluctance of the blurb to mention the fact Micah is intersex. It annoys me because it's so central to the story.
There are vivid ideas, a well realised world, interesting characters, and a story I definitely want to find out what happens next in. That said, it wasn't quite there for me, just as a personal taste thing, so I'm giving it 3.5 stars but it was very, *very* close to 4. If YA is more your thing than mine, I'd definitely suggest giving the series a whirl.
Really, I don’t know why I took so long to get around to reading this trilogy. As with every other book by Lam I’ve read, the pace is great and tempts me to just sit down and read it in one go… which is more or less what I did with Shadowplay, once I picked it up. I greatly enjoyed the development of Micah and Drystan’s characters in this book, and now I’m fully on board the ship, ready to go down with all hands if necessary. The new characters introduced are fun too, and so is the fact that now they go into stage magic.
The best bit, of course, is that the fantasy setting is expanded by the addition of a character with powers, and some explanations of the Phantom Damselfly’s appearances. Doctor Pozzi makes an appearance, apparently sincere and eager to help Micah, and at the same time we get a this-book-only plot of a duel between magicians (with suitably high stakes of said magicians’ careers, of course).
I’m looking forward to how all this wraps up — the background is starting to become clear, and now I just need to know what happens to Micah in the end…
I might love this one even more than I did the second! Micha and Drystans budding romance?! swoons
We enter a different world from the first, gone is the circus and enter magic shows! Maske is a magician who having lost a bet a number of years ago is no longer allowed to practise magic. Drystan and Maske go way back and Maske agrees to shelter them in his crumbling theatre and teach them magic, they become his students. This leads to Maskes former enemy asking for a rematch between the two magicians students, which if Maske wins he will be able to practise magic again and retake his former glory.
Cyan joins them at the theatre having fled her life and family at the circus because she can read minds. She is hiding some secrets, can she be trusted? Micha and Cyan begin to realise that they are beings like that used to exist in the past and together start to understand, with the help from the Phantom Damselfly their slowly emerging powers. With this comes the realisation of a broken government and corrupt politics. This was so brilliantly done that you need too know more right away with what is actually going on!
Book two throws us straight in from where book one left off and we get much more information about the world and magic that has been lost in time. I really enjoyed it, and am so glad that I already had book three waiting to go, because I just had to know what was going to happen next.
I absolutely adored Laura Lam's debut novel, Pantomime, and I didn't think its sequel could top it. But man, was I wrong! Shadowplay is just as amazing, if not better. Even though the circus setting is gone, the magic is still there, and things get a whole lot more fantastical.
Laura's writing is impeccable, and that vivid magical element she had in Pantomime is still there in this one. Shadowplay picks up right where Pantomime left off, with Micah and Drystan on the run. They go to the only person Drystan can trust - Jasper Maske, a magician and ex-performer. As Maske teaches the two of them his tricks and illusions, Micah discovers a lot about who he really is, and what his purpose is. He also finds strength and comfort in Drystan, though they're both cautious when it comes to their being together. Danger is still lurking everywhere, and a lot of unanswered questions from the first novel are cleared up in this. While adding more, of course.
Micah's definitely becoming more comfortable with who he is in one way, but in terms of his abilities, things are still confusing. Also, I keep switching between thinking of him as Micah and Gene. Usually when there are moments with Drystan, I imagine Gene. I don't know why, traditional thinking I guess. But Gene is clearly diminishing, and Micah is getting more confident, which I really liked. I hope we get to find out more about his powers in the next book, because I'm left with so many questions after this one!
And oh my god guys, Drystan. He's honestly one of the best YA characters I've come across. We didn't get to see enough of him in Pantomime, but we definitely get loads of him in Shadowplay. He's still enigmatic, but we get to find out his story. And it's not a pretty one, but it made me empathize with him so much, and my heart totally went out to him. I love that he's always so calm in a crisis, and that he supports Micah through everything. Drystan's good, honest, and kind. He's like a pillar of support for those around him, and I can imagine that anyone would feel comfortable with him. Drystan's got his own demons to battle, but I have complete faith that he'll get past everything he's had to deal with.
There are a few new characters in this book, primarily Maske and Cyan. Cyan's an assisstant that Maske hires on account of the fact that he's known her forever, and she turns out to be really interesting with quite a few secrets of her own. The relationship dynamics in this book are great, and I loved how the characters interacted with one another, wondering if they should trust or not.
Some parts are definitely confusing and hard to understand, mostly the stuff centering around the damselfly we met in Pantomime. There's a lot more of her in this, and we find out her importance in everything. There's also quite a bit about the Alder and the Chimaera, which I found really intriguing. Though I missed the circus atmosphere, I really enjoyed the darker and mystical magic-centered setting as well. And I'm now wondering what the next book will bring.
This series is a must-read for all fantasy lovers. I literally couldn't put this one down! Shadowplay is captivating and enticing, with the most complex characters you'll ever come across. I loved every bit of this, and I'm now impatiently waiting for the next installment.
One of my favourite quotes from the eARC copy -
Drystan centered me. No matter how much we scrabbled for purchase, our world continued to crumble about us. So we held onto each other and let the world fade away.
*Thank you to Strange Chemistry for providing me with an eARC for review*