Dancce's Reviews > Luck in the Shadows

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
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's review
Sep 03, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: favourites

Now... this one is tough.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. I'd wondered for a long time before I decided to give it four stars. Wanna know why?

Because after a clichéd and fairly unoriginal start, it suddenly started getting better. And it kept getting better all the way to the very impressive end of Stalking Darkness, which would be the book 2 of the series.
(Then it stopped. And Traitor's Moon - book 3 - just... sucked.)

For starters, let me inform you that Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness together actually form one complete, standalone story. (Traitor's Moon deals with its own weak, ridiculous kitten of a plot, and after that... well, more kittens.)

Now... as for this Lynn Flewelling's product. The premise, at first, elicits an eyeroll: a young, blonde, unskilled and innocent orphan (a hunter instead of a farmer in this case), and a dashing, worldly, mysterious spy have to team up to.. yes... save the world.

And then it didn't quite go as I expected.

The book's weakest point are, without a doubt, its first few dozen pages, where we have to chew through an improbable rescue mission containing an angry duke, an unjustly convicted young blonde ingenue
by the name of Alec, and an actually very likeable Seregil the spy with an annoying hero complex. In a few moments, Seregil, incarcerated because of espionage, gets the innocent but hungry, and thusly deer-
poaching, Alec out of the prison.
Then, in two sentences, Seregil unexplicably apprentices Alec - after sharing an illogical conversation concerning the illicity of Seregil's
spying/thieving profession. What spy/diplomatic thief tells the first person they meet that they are a spy/diplomatic thief, and, hey, don't you wanna join me, because your eyes are really blue? Since you have nowhere else to go, anyway.

Sorry, but I just didn't buy that one. There was no real reason for Alec to join Seregil on his travels. Plus, considering the inherent dangers of Seregil's lifestyle, the weak explanation that there was just
'something' about Alec that seemed vitally important... well. Uh-huh. I think Mrs. Flewelling could have come up with a better - or at least some - reason to bring those two together.

After that, there is a crazy and heavy-handed amount of world-information, which Seregil keeps spewing out for a few traditional campfire-nights to educate our poor, previously isolated orphan. The keyword being, heavy-handed. Very much so. After a few words, the author's desperate attempt to bring the reader up-to-date with the history, culture, geography and the current news of her setting in a flash become so jarring that it is a real pain to just keep reading. It was at this point I almost gave up on the book.

The alarm bells included:
* a blond, innocent orphan
* heavy-handedness
* illogical plot twists
* in an unoriginal plot and a fairly typical setting

But, since I am a very headstrong person, I kept reading.

And, surprisingly, I got rewarded for my effort.

Now, the pluses. While the plot, the setting and the general atmosphere of the book are very classical - the Eye can See you, Frodo! - it is not long before you are willing to play along. The espionage scenes in the capital are traditional, but highly enjoyable. The action soon becomes quite exciting, and, amazingly, you actually start to care. You start to care about what happens to the world and what happens next and if it all ends well and what will become of the characters and... and... and...
This is the first book I've ever read where the characters really, believably grow and change with time.
It is the first book in history where our innocent, blue-eyed orphan... actually grows up.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I couldn't believe my brain when I suddenly realized I'd started liking Alec almost as much as Seregil.
The thing is, I always like characters like Seregil. They are their own brand of cliché, but it just so happens that this particular brand is a favourite of mine, so I am more willing to forgive its flaws.
Normally, I always hate characters of Alec's starting point. The whiny, incapable 'protagonist' who is no good at anything and cannot do anything without a full cast of supportive sidekicks, and just wants to be 'a normal boy'.
(I am talking about you, Harry Potter, Eragon, Bella, Garion, Richard Cypher... I could go on indefinitely.)

Alec, surprisingly, does grow up. As the book progresses, he starts gaining wits, elegance and a certain manliness that, in the end, become more than a match for Seregil's quick mind. The romance between the two is very neat, and, what a happy circumstance, never takes over the main plot. However, it complements that main plot nicely, and adds a strange feeling of poignancy to what might otherwise have been just another 'camaraderie' fable fit for your typical fantasy inn storytelling.

I am a big fan and supporter of gay relationships in all media (and real life), because, even if I wanted to ignore the simple we-are-all-equal-who-sleeps-with-whom-is-a-moot-point, IT SHAKES THINGS UP. Come on. How often have you started a book, and then, after five pages, realized you knew how it ended? Of course, the hero and the heroine fall in love... at some point, without debate. You can always tell which of the characters will end up together. And some always will. That is the reason I am a fan of books without relationships, as well. If you can't make it interesting, don't do it at all. How many times have you read a non-romance book where the romantic relationships between the characters didn't add to the plot in any way? They were there just because. Just because people like that sort of thing. Or just because the author needed to let some steam out.
I, personally, think that those subplots are boring, annoying and redundant, especially handled as they often are.

Luck in the Shadows was one of the few books where the romance part was handled subtly, elegantly, in an interesting way, and - it still managed to remain a subplot. Neat.

So, what is the overall verdict? Is this a good book?
I'm not really sure.
Is it a book worth reading?
Hell, yes.
Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness make for an intriguing, albeit traditional tale that nonetheless manages to bring in some new twists. If you want a classic, you want a classic like this. It is a good classic, a fun classic, a classic in the best sense of the word. It's never boring, and, hell, I even cried a few times.

Hey. Give it a shot.

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