Shadows Author: E. C. Blake Series: Masks of Aygrima 2 Publisher: DAW, August 5, 2014 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages List Price: $19.95 (print) ISBN: 9780756407605 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
In Masks, Mara Holdfast's life changed forever. As the daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, she had a clearly defined future: a quiet, ordered life in the capital, making Masks with her father and doing work important to the ruling Autarch. But when her Mask, specially made by her own father, cracked and fell to pieces during her Masking ceremony, Mara was exiled from everything she once knew.
Now she has become part of an underground rebellion, rejecting the unjust rules of a Masked society. She must try to understand her unprecedented ability to use all types of magic—and to tear magic from the living bodies of those around her. But Mara has yet to discover just how horrifying her power can be….
E.C. Blake provides an excellent sequel in Shadows. We continue Mara Holdfast's journey in discovery of her magical gift and how to properly control it, before it controls her. I still really enjoy this magical system. It's not your basic rainbow spectrum magical system. I found myself thinking about the magical system even when I wasn't reading the book, trying to figure out all the facets it might hold. In general, Blake does a great job of building on the foundations he laid in the first book when it comes to both the magical system and world building. Blake expanded his world by introducing a new island kingdom, Korellia, represented by Chell, and another kingdom, Stonefell, that is only mentioned in conversation, which leaves enough mystery in the world to leave you with questions and wonder.
Mara deepens as a character as we learn more about the struggles she faces in controlling her gift. It becomes more clear the power she can wield is more addictive than she realizes, which is a wonderful allegory for many things any one of us might face in life. We also see her fail and triumph in Shadows, which continues to make her relatable and engaging as a heroine. The love triangle I found a little annoying in the first book began to scare me in this book as it appeared to morph into a love square, but thankfully Blake took care of that in a very real and respectable way.
Some sequels are easier to read as a stand alone novel or a jumping in point book, this is not one of them if you truly want to understand Mara and the world she lives in. Blake does not give a lot of background information about what's happened before. He does mention events and people from the first book, which helps readers remember events if it's been a year since reading the first book, but these references would probably confuse a new reader. As a person who strictly believes in reading a series in proper order, this is not an issue for me.
I had mentioned in the first book's review that I would like to learn more of the villain, sadly I did not learn many new things in Shadows. I feel this is the only real weakness in the book. I understand the less is more approach to a villain, but as a series progresses I want to learn more about them and their motivations to truly fear them. Otherwise, they start feeling like a cut-out villain. This could still be remedied in the third book, by making the villain more prominent or even a POV character.
Blake ends Shadows in one of those perfect 'no, no, no there's got to be one more chapter' moments. You can see Blake planting plenty of seeds for future books in the series beyond book 3. I'm looking forward to going on many more adventures with Mara. There are still several descriptive acts of violence, minor language and minor sexual situations, so I'd recommended it to older teens and adults. Anyone who liked Masks needs to read this book. Fans of realistic heroines will love Mara.