Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fantasy Review: A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda

As much as I loved A Turn of Light, and as much as I was looking forward to A Play of Shadow, I didn't really see how Julie E. Czerneda could draw a second tale out of such a small, self-contained world. The village of Marrowdell was a fantastic setting, but its magical seclusion hardly allowed for the outside world to intervene. Similarly, Jenn Nalynn was an amazing character, but her own magical essence hardly allowed for her to simply stroll outside the valley and take the story to the larger world. Yes, I wanted more of the magic, and more of Julie's subtle twists on traditional fantasy, but I was worried what kind of a shadow a less-than-stellar book might cast over the first.

As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. In continuing the story of Jenn and Bannan, A Play of Shadow not only expands upon the magic of Marrowdell and the Verge, it does successfully finds a way to take us beyond that world - all while honoring the rules and limitations of A Turn of Light. In all honestly, even though this second volume lacks the novelty factor of the first, I do think I enjoyed it more. It's broader in scope, more magical in every way, and benefits from what I think most readers will agree is a more even, more exciting pace.

The story opens on a quiet note, reacquainting us with the characters and their world. Despite what we might have expected, the romance between Jenn and Bannan has progressed slowly, so don't expect any sudden leap towards wedded bliss. No sooner are we reacquainted, however, and we're just as quickly separated. Bannan is accompanying a trade caravan out of Marrowdell, while Jenn is off to visit Wisp and Mistress Sand in the Verge. While the lovers are soon reunited, both learn new secrets and new insights into the magic of Marrowdell and the turn-born, setting up some interesting conflicts and introducing some new threats to both their worlds. When Tir makes a winter return, near-death and with Bannan's nephews in hand, the story takes off in exciting and unexpected directions.

There's so much magic and wonder to be discovered in this world, I'm hesitant about saying more. Suffice to say, the scenes within the Verge are absolutely stunning, with little touches and major flourishes that really bring that magical realm to life. The journey to Channen, a canal town of magic and magicians, is a very nice addition to the tale - it adds another traditional fantasy element to the tale, and opens it up to some deeper, darker political machinations. I will say that we do finally get to meet Lila, Bannan's sister, and her appearance on the scene is well worth waiting for. Otherwise, Wisp and Scourge get to take on some new roles, while the house toads take on a whole new significance to the tale . . . as do their turtle cousins.

A Play of Shadow is everything I could have hoped for in a sequel, complete with the one thing the original book lacked, and that is a villain . . . or villains. Yes, there are two core conflicts here, one involving Jenn and another Bannan, and they serve to round out the tale. Rest assured, however, that while this second volume does add to the tale, it doesn't sacrifice any of the sweetness, the magic, or the wonder of the first. Definitely recommended.


Paperback, 608 pages
Published November 4th 2014 by DAW Trade

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