☩Title:Shadowplay (Micah Grey #2)
☩Publication date:4th January 2014
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.