Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling
Luck in the Shadows is a book that has been avoiding me—there was one copy at a local used bookstore that was quickly snatched up by a gentleman I know, and, while my local library has it, I’m at school right now and don’t wish to hold a book hostage from my very sweet librarians. In comes T. J. to the rescue, who, no longer needing her used copy, was sweet enough to sent it over to me.
Luck in the Shadows starts in a prison. Alec of Kerry has been wrongfully imprisoned and fully expects to be beaten or killed for his false offense; he certainly doesn’t expect to be rescued by Seregil of Rhíminee, a dashing rogue, thief, and noble who decides to make Alec his protégé. For a while, Alec is trained in the north, until Seregil and Alec run afoul of Mardus, a powerful man from Plenimar with obscure and suspicious motives. The two flee to Skala and discover themselves embroiled in a conspiracy against the current Queen, and must do all in their power to unmask it, if only to save themselves.
The worldbuilding is solid, but not revelatory; like a lot of fantasy, you’ve got your traditional fantasy map, your usual fantasy world based on medieval Europe (if not England), your elves (excuse me, your ‘faie), and your wizards. It’s good and enjoyable, but the only thing that really sets it apart from other fantasy worlds are the warrior queens of Skala, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but aren’t explored thoroughly. Seregil often tells Alec tales about the wider world to entertain him or pay him back, which actually worked quite well as introducing the audience to Flewelling’s world without choking us with information. In short, Flewelling does the usual fantasy fare quite well, even though I occasionally smirked at the liberal use of accents and vowels for fantastical names. (Accent abuse is another topic for quite another Sunday.)
One of Luck in the Shadows’ strengths is the characters. Seregil is dashing, witty, and lovable, and comes with his very own mysterious past. Alec is hardworking, loyal, and a bit sheltered, but part of the fun of Luck in the Shadows is watching Alec come into his own and grow more confident. The rest of the cast is well rendered; of particular note is Micum, one of Seregil’s colleagues, and his family–they’re warm, loving, and not perfect, the sort of family that you want to adopt you as own of your own. (Alec, the lucky so-and-so, manages it.) The much vaunted romance between Seregil and Alec merely starts here, so heads up to anyone who thought that storyline was resolved here. Like me. Queer identities are treated quite well; in the south, it’s quite matter of fact and of little note, and while it’s not practiced widely up north, it’s not looked upon as anything other than unproductive (which, yes, isn’t the greatest thing, but could be much worse). There’s, interestingly, no terminology that denotes orientation; Seregil himself seems to be a four or a five on the old Kinsey Scale. Their friendship is lovely and organic, as their banter, which I quite enjoyed. In fact, most of the banter in this book works wonderfully, which, I suppose, stems from such good characters.
The structure can feel a bit episodic, as the novel can be split into two portions–the first half, where Seregil rescues Alec and the two are stalked by Mardus in the North, and the second half, were Seregil and Alec attempt to uncover a conspiracy against the throne of Skala. Both of them are quite entertaining, and it’s helped by the fact that the cast is downright lovable and fun to watch. But the threat of Mardus drops out of the picture in the second half, although he is most assuredly back for the sequel, Stalking Darkness. I thoroughly enjoyed both halves, but I just wish we had checked in with Mardus at some point during the second half, instead of the magical wound he inflicts on Seregil standing in for him. I do have to say that the climax is thrilling and satisfactory, while leaving enough unanswered questions (and an unabashed sequel hook) to interest the reader in the further adventures of Seregil and Alec. The action is well-done and choreographed, and our heroes often have to use their wits to get out of a scrape–these two definitely earn their escapes. It’s downright impressive how Flewelling makes what could have been a fairly standard fantasy something wonderful by polishing everything to a mirror sheen.
Bottom line: While Luck in the Shadows has the trappings of fairly standard fantasy and meanders a little, Flewelling elevates it by polishing everything to a mirror sheen–the cast is dashing and lovable, the action is thrilling, and the beginning of the main romance is nicely organic. Well worth a read.
This book was given to me by T. J. of Dreams and Speculation.