Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by John Lenahan

Shadowmagic cover  

Conor O'Neil is a typical modern high school student, the son of an eccentric professor of ancient languages. His father Olson speaks fluent Ancient Gaelic and owns a collection of ancient weaponry that would be the envy of any Gaelic warrior. And, just to emphasise how very quirky he is, Olson only has one hand.

As a result of his father's bizarreness, and an attack by a couple of Celtic warriors on horseback, the two of them soon find themselves beyond the Real World. They arrive in Tir na Nog, the Land of Eternal Youth. Here, Conor is pursued by murderous relatives he never knew he had, and condemned by a prophecy that suggests he must be sacrificed to save the kingdom.

In some ways this is standard fantasy fare, a coming of age story with magical elements. But the Celtic theme makes a pleasant change from overused fantasy motifs. The Land is full of trees with attitude: chatty, frosty, taciturn, generous or downright lethal, each species has a different personality. Hardly anything can be done without first asking the trees' permission. It's a bit of a tree-huggers paradise, and amidst some tearful reunions with family and various communions with trees, it can be awfully drippy. Thankfully the conversational skills don't apply to grasses, flowers or animals, or the story would never get anywhere.

The immortal inhabitants of The Land belong to several races. However the brownies, banshees, imps, leprechauns and so on don't look vastly different from humans. The Shadowmagic of the title is outlawed, leaving Conor in some awkward situations since his family is often involved in it. The story makes for a rousing adventure that gains momentum towards the end. It's peopled with a number of characters, although they do tend to fill roles which are more or less stock. For instance there's the rougish friend, the mentor with skill at arms, the woman who can't be trusted, not to mention the villain with a menacing goatee.

Shadowmagic is light, and it keeps up a jolly tone even when things look bad for our heroes. This tends to lessen the suspense. As they move from weird woods to castle to yet another freaky forest there's always the sense that everything will soon come right. Yet this novel isn't the comedy that the author seems to think it is. At one point Conor complains that no-one gets his jokes. This is odd, because he doesn't make that many. He's continually laughing about his situation and making Real-World references that the people of Tir na Nog don't understand, but his remarks rarely count as jokes. Unfortunately this book falls in the gap between two genres: it's not serious enough to be scary or witty enough to be a great comedy.

The ending is formulaic, if a little soft. The main twist is predictable virtually from the moment a certain character arrives on the scene in one of the earlier chapters. This puts Shadowmagic firmly at the younger end of the young adult category, because older readers will tend to figure out the ending too early.

This is a quick read, and no masterpiece. However, that's not to say that some people won't enjoy the story. It's logical, light, and it maintains a reasonable pace and a good balance of characters. Readers looking for a shallow, fast fantasy with an unusual take on Irish legends might find this satisfactory.

Book Details

Year: 2008

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
  Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson