Published by Tor Books on February 28th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Game of Shadows is a tale of adventure, a coming of age story that focuses on a teenage boy called Ethan Makkai. The abridged version of this review is that whilst I don’t think this book worked for me personally, I can certainly see the appeal for the target audience. This is undoubtedly a fun and fast paced read, maybe a little too young for my tastes but still very easy to read and with plenty of imagination.
As the story begins we make the acquaintance of Ethan. He lives in Los Angeles in a cramped apartment with his mother. We immediately learn that his mother is very protective – a tad over protective really, in fact it becomes apparent that Ethan very rarely has a moment of freedom, he is literally shepherded from A to B and back again and whilst he handles this with a good deal more grace than I would be able to muster he’s beginning to push at the boundaries. On the morning of his birthday he finally makes a bold dash to escape his mother’s clutches and scarpers off to school by himself whilst her back is turned. His little moment of liberation however is going to cost him a lot more than he ever expected and within minutes of leaving home it seems that everything goes to hell in a handcart.
Ethan sees dead people – okay, he sees spirits of dead people. They’re drawn to him and maybe this is the source of his mother’s paranoia concerning his safety. On top of this Ethan seems to have attracted the attention of the school bully who seems to take great delight in singling him out for special attention. Ethan’s life may not sound ideal but as he heads to school that morning, accompanied by his friend Skylar, who he secretly harbours a crush on, he really has no idea how lucky he’s been up to this point. Pretty soon he finds himself accosted by the local bully, a number of ghosts and an old sea faring fellow claiming to be his grandfather. He discovers his mother has been kidnapped and in order to find her he must sail the seas and cross over into a completely different world. From hereon in the rules are completely different, the impossible is probable and Ethan begins to discover that his mother has been keeping secrets from him.
I’ll start out with the parts of the book that I liked. I thought the story got off to a very good start, I was intrigued about Ethan, why was his mother so protective, what was the low down with his ability to see spirits. The author really did intrigue me with her suggestion of mystery, ravens that seemed to spy on the small family and a general sense that something was lurking just ready to pounce. I thought the pacing was great – I mean there’s no shortage of action, the author has tried to inject a good dose of humour and frankly I found this a very quick read.
However, my niggles. And these are the areas that I think single me out as not being the target audience. These are just the little things that don’t sit well for me, where once I’ve thought them I can’t leave them alone and they eventually just annoy the hell out of me. Now, I understand that tropes are only tropes because we enjoy them when all is said and done. However, there is a slight feeling that the tropes here are a little too much in abundance (which is another reason why I think a younger reader might enjoy this more, somebody just stepping onto the fantasy ladder where everything feels fresh). For example, Ethan and his mum. Many cliches right here. A mother who, having run away and gone into hiding, completely hides her son’s heritage. Tells him nothing thereby leaving him a good deal more vulnerable than needs be. A young boy who it turns out is not only the heir to the throne but on top of that it seems he has some sort of magical ability (hence the ghosts above).
If we take a closer look at Ethan. I actually started out really quite liking him but that changed a little when he reached the magical continent of Tara. For me, his character seemed in conflict with itself, sometimes he seemed to be downright broody and sulky, petulant almost, and yet at the same time he managed to calmly accept everything that was thrown at him from this strange new world. So, you can sulk because your newly found father shows somebody else more attention than you but a monster chasing you through the woods is nothing to get excited about. Maybe that’s just his terrible teens kicking in.
Then we have the adventure. There’s plenty going on and the author encompasses lots of ideas here as our little band of travellers go on their way. Basically, Ethan has run away from the relative safety of the castle to go in search of his mother. Along the way he manages to acquire the help of his cousin Christian and a young woman, the daughter of one of the generals – who turns out to be a sorceress. The three of them set off to find Ethan’s father, a man who he believed to be dead – and who it seems is something of a rough and ready character who lives a fairly wild existence and will be just the sort that you need on this sort of quest – if you want to know which direction to go in that is. Again, I quite like the idea of the whole adventure and there’s plenty that takes place along the way, but, I had a number of occasions where events were far too easily resolved or where assistance was offered from the strangest quarter. For me, it felt like the plot became a little bit too much of a certainty. Somehow it just drained the story of the tension that should have existed and made me second guess everything along the way.
Overall, yes, I admit that this book wasn’t really for me. I didn’t dislike it by any means, it was a quick read and the pages flew by but I think it’s an adventure story for a younger audience.