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.
Last in this series – Pantomime
Next in this series – Masquerade