Shadowplay (2014): Laura Lam


Micah Grey: Book II

Some months after reading the captivating Pantomime, I discovered that the second volume in Lam’s Micah Grey trilogy was actually available for Kindle after all. Longing for something light and gripping, and unable to exercise restraint, I devoured the entire thing on Sunday in my haste to find out more about Micah, his history and his strange, beguiling world. Please bear in mind that of course this post will include spoilers for the first book in the series, so proceed with care if you haven’t read it.

When we last saw Micah, he had just escaped from R.H. Ragona’s circus, leaving a trail of blood and tragedy behind him. He and his fellow fugitive Drystan are pursued not only by vengeful clowns (which I imagine is a much more terrifying prospect than it sounds), but also by the gumshoe Shadow, who is determined to return Micah to his family and claim a hefty reward. Micah panics and does the only thing he can: unleashes his mysterious power to set a Penglass dome alight, to blind their pursuers. And that’s how we find the two runaways again: wounded, shabby and with nowhere left to go except the house of the mysterious Jasper Maske, a retired magician who apparently owes Drystan a favour.

With news of their escape over all the newspapers, and the Shadow on their tail, Micah and Drystan daren’t leave the ramshackle Kymri Theatre where Maske lives. Eventually, when it becomes clear that they must find a way to repay him for board and lodging, they persuade Maske to teach them some of his tricks. Used to the flair and sleight-of-hand of the circus, they rapidly pick up his skills and, with the aid of Glamours made of Vestige, they are able to perform on the streets without anyone recognising them, and to earn a little money. But their performances draw unwanted attention and soon Maske’s old partner-turned-enemy comes calling, with an idea for a wager that will settle their old rivalry once and for all. As Micah, Drystan and their assistant Cyan prepare themselves for this contest of magic, they find themselves battling external forces too. The Shadow is once again on their trail. Micah encounters someone unexpected from his past. And the Phantom Damselfly, a ghost trapped within a circus illusion, begins to predict frightening tales of the changing of the world. Micah is coming closer to answers about his past, but these may threaten the safety of everyone he loves.

I was initially a little lukewarm, but grew fonder of the book while reading it. By the end I was thoroughly engaged: just my luck that it should end on a cliffhanger. But it is different from the first book: more overtly fantastical, and perhaps slightly less interesting to me for that. Pantomime was more about human agency and the struggle to understand and accept ourselves, whereas Shadowplay shows signs of becoming part of a fantasy holding-out-for-a-hero story. As something that’s more of an observation than a criticism, I also felt that Shadowplay was more of a ‘young adult’ novel than the first book, largely because of the simmering romantic tension through. In Pantomime, Micah was frankly and openly in love and his hesitancy could be explained by his lack of self-assurance about his gender. But in this book the path of the romance felt more manufactured, brimming with the teenage angst of blushes, stolen glances and misunderstood comments, until I felt a powerful desire to grab both characters by the scruffs of their necks, and order them just to go to bed together, get it out of their systems and for God’s sake let us get on with the story. Perhaps I’d have been more forgiving if I was still fifteen and in love with the idea of romantic suffering.

The circus, to me, felt like a more original setting than a magician’s theatre, but there was much to enjoy in the trickery and misdirection of Micah’s new life. The rivalry between Maske and his former partner adds a tantalising subplot that keeps the tension high until the final curtain, and despite my qualms I finished the book impatient to start on the next… but I can’t, because I don’t think it’s been published yet. I can’t imagine how Lam is going to wrap everything up in just one more novel. But no doubt she will, and I feel so invested now that I’ll have to carry on, to find out more about the Chimaera, the Alder and how Micah – with Drystan and Cyan at his side, no doubt – plans to take them on.

Buy the book

Last in this series – Pantomime

Next in this series – Masquerade

5 thoughts on “Shadowplay (2014): Laura Lam

  1. Heloise Merlin says:

    It seems that since your post on Pantomime not only have both novels become available as e-books in Germany, too, but they’re also very cheap, so there really is no reason not to snatch them right away, as this second one sounds quite intriguing, too. Call me immature, but I actually enjoy reading about romantic suffering and don’t really think it’s something that only teenagers are prone to.

    I’m not at all keen on cliffhangers, though, and therefore will probably hold off on reading the books until the final volume is out. Seriously, whoever thought that cliffhanger endings were a good idea? They’re such a blatantly obvious attempt at reader manipulation (not to mention terribly lazy writing), I find them incredibly annoying and can sympathize with anyone who refuses to read a book that ends in one.

    • The Idle Woman says:

      Oh, it’s not that I find romantic suffering immature per se – far from it (my own recent experience proves that adults are prey to it just as much!) – it’s just the way it was written about here. I liked Lam’s tack in the first book better. But in any case, it wasn’t a huge issue for me – unlike far worse offenders I’ve read, it’s incidental to the plot and the plot itself is really fun. You could probably read Pantomime by itself, while you’re waiting for the third book to come out, because it stands alone a little better; by the end of Shadowplay we’re getting a bit more wrapped up in things which will only be resolved in the final book, I guess.

      I’m really impressed with Lam. When you consider that I was initially attracted to the books by their covers (happens so often), I was really lucky to find two such enjoyable books. She’s recently published a more sci-fi sounding book, which (if one thinks of Pantomime etc. as young adult, which I’m still not entirely sure that I do) is perhaps more adult-orientated. It’s called False Hearts. Although I might not seek it out under normal circumstances, I think Lam has impressed me enough as an author that I’d be keen to see how she creates a different kind of world.

      I do hope you get round to Pantomime etc. soon. I think you’d really like it and I’ll be very interested to see your posts when you do read the books.

      • Heloise Merlin says:

        Yes, I’ve already been ogling False Hearts as well as the series of tales set in the world of the trilogy. I’m about halfway through The Plum in the Golden Vase (which means there are about another 1200 pages to go) but I guess I might squeeze Pantomime in between volumes there. Even if I do, don’t hold your breath for any posts, though, as I’m still struggling to catch up with stuff I read last year…

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