Review: Shadows by E.C. Blake

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Shadows by E.C. BlakeShadows by E.C. Blake
Series: Masks of Aygrima #2
Published by DAW on August 5, 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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InMasks, Mara Holdfast's life changed forever. As the daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, she had a clearly defined future: a quiet, ordered life in the capital, making Masks with her father and doing work important to the ruling Autarch. But when her Mask, specially made by her own father, cracked and fell to pieces during her Masking ceremony, Mara was exiled from everything she once knew. Soon, she becomes part of an underground rebellion, rejecting the unjust rules of a Masked society and uncovering a horrifying plot of mind control over the entire population of the empire.

In a moment of crisis, Mara finds herself possessed of a volatile magical power that neither she nor any of her allies can truly control. InShadow,Mara faces terrifying new challenges and dangers as she struggles to understand her unprecedented ability to use all types of magic—and to tear magic from the living bodies of those around her. With the arrival of Chell, a young man from across the sea, the world beyond the borders of the Autarchy of Aygrima begins to make itself felt. Then an act of brutality tips Mara dangerously close to madness…and in the midst of a desperate and bloody battle, she discovers just how horrifying her power can be….

Last year, I read Masks and, much to surprise, I really enjoyed it, despite my cover-based skepticism. The world was really interesting and the characters, while young, seemed promising. Now, I’m left doubting my analysis from last year. Were my expectations so low I was easily impressed? Was I drunk? Is book two just worse? I’m not sure if it’s one of these things or maybe all three in tandem, but I was severely disappointed in Shadows.

To start with the good, I still think that the world Blake created is an interesting one. The fact that magic can be drawn either from natural pools or from within people by the strongest magical people is really cool. I think that Blake does a great job with the power dynamics in his story. He even adds in another country in Shadows, one thought destroyed across the sea. The new character, Chell, throws an additional consideration into the heroine’s possibilities and Aygrima’s. The foundation of this series is pretty solid. There’s a lot of promise here.

Up to a point, I was kind of enjoying Shadows. Then this one scene happened. First, though, some backdrop. The heroine, Mara Holdfast, is fifteen years old. She can wield all forms of magic. She could even be the most powerful person in Aygrima, though she lacks the training to actually be that strong. Her potential is massive. Even without training, she’s undoubtedly one of the strongest in the country. That’s a lot of pressure on a fifteen year old. Mara is, for the most part, very convincingly fifteen. She’s naive and, though she tries really hard to help out and come up with good plans, she really just doesn’t. This, on its own, I don’t mind so much. I mean, she was born with this power, but she’s not old or wise enough to know what to do with it yet.

This is who we’re dealing with. The plot of Shadows is set in motion by two events: Chell’s arrival, washed up on the shore, and the fact that Mara cannot make the counterfeit masks for the Unmasked Army. To deal with the latter, Mara decides that the only solution is to visit her father and learn the secret magics needed to complete a mask. As such, an incredibly dangerous trip to the main city is planned with Chell, Keltan (love interest #1) and Edrik (love interest #2’s dad). Unsurprisingly things do not go as planned. The thing is that Mara’s dad just gives her a book on mask-making, which a) I think was completely forgotten about since the Autarch doesn’t ask how she got it and Keltan doesn’t give it back to her, as he would have done later and b) probably could have been stolen from the Maskmaker’s shop where Catilla got the rest of the maskmaking supplies.

There’s your background. Mara’s young and her big plan for the rebels was to go to her dad. Yes, he’s the master maskmaker, but he’s not the ONLY maskmaker and that was a completely unsound plan. Even more unsound was her idea that she could View Spoiler » Mara is a young girl, struggling with a strong urge to use magic and even to kill.

Then there are two scenes basically back to back that threw me for a loop. First, Mara, who has never been kissed, sticks her hand down Chell’s pants and basically begs him to have sex with her. Holy fucking shit. FIFTEEN. He, thank everything that’s bookish, turns her down with the news that he’s 25, not twenty like she thought, and that he is actually married.  Right after that uncomfortable embarrassment of a scene, Mara gets into a fight with a magic-wielding Watcher. She takes the magic he throws at her into herself, but all of her clothing burns off in the process, leaving her naked with a bunch of adult men. Reminder: she’s FIFTEEN. Neither of these scenes had to play out that way for plot advancement purposes, and I find the needless sexualization of a fifteen-year-old uncomfortable.

After that, the love triangle between Keltan, Hyram and Mara proceeds to resolve in the most idiotic way possible. Mara suddenly decides (after being rejected by Chell…hmmmm) that she likes Keltan, aka the first one to use the l word. Conveniently, though, Hyram’s got someone else now and he hates her anyway. What a romantic resolution! I have so many feels about this middle grade love triangle. #sarcasm

On top of that, the writing was really annoying. I’m unsure whether Masks had the same drawbacks, but I definitely didn’t like a couple of the stylistic choices. For one thing, dialog tags abound. Though, actually, I should say dialog tag abounds, since it’s really just “said” over and over ad infinitum. There’s also this continuous lame attempt to increase the drama of a moment by ending one paragraph with an ellipsis and then beginning the next with an ellipsis. Check it out yourself:

The red-Masked Watcher thrust out his hands at them. Magic streaked across the water. . .

. . . and Mara, acting on pure reflex, leaped to her feet and called that magic to herself.

This does not increase my suspense; it makes me roll my eyes with judgment. Just so you know, this happened quite frequently. In some cases, there were two of these on a page. No. All the no.

Though the ending introduced a new character who might actually be interesting (in a completely telegraphed twist), I just can’t handle anymore of this. I’ll not be back for book three.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re both so convinced I’m going to pick one of you as a boyfriend. You even got in a fight over me. But did either of you ever think to ask me if I was interested in either of you.?”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif game of thrones eye roll

2 responses to “Review: Shadows by E.C. Blake”

  1. Dragana says:

    I’m so sad Shadows was so much worse than Masks. After your review of Masks I added it to my tbr because I really liked the world and magic. But now I removed it. I just don’t want to reach that point where over-sexualization of teens will make me roll my eyes until they ache. And that love triangle – that’s not resolution. Its easy escape. :/
    I’m surprised you didn’t DNF it.
    Dragana recently posted…Book Review: Hatshepsut’s Collar by A.W. ExleyMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I’m sad about this too. The world’s still really cool. What I really don’t get is why the main characters just aren’t older. Let them hang out and train in the mountains for a while or something. Have the masking when they’re older than fifteen. I didn’t DNF because the part that really bothered me happened over 200 pages in. I was committed by that point.

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