Review: Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis

Saturday, July 29, 2017
Title: Game of Shadows
Author: Erika Lewis
Genre: fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: expected February 28 2017
Source: finished copy for review from publisher
Rating: 3/5

Ethan Makkai thought that seeing ghosts was the worst of his problems. Between his ethereal gift and life with a single mother hell-bent on watching his every move, he feels imprisoned. When Ethan sees a chance to escape, to leave the house by himself for the first time in his life, he seizes it, unaware that this first taste of freedom will cost him everything.

Ethan is thrown into a strange and eerie world, like nothing he's ever seen. He's assaulted by dive-bombing birds and rescued by a stranger who claims to be his bodyguard. His apartment is trashed, and his mother is kidnapped to a place Ethan never knew existed—a hidden continent called Tara.

Travelling to Tara in search of his mother, Ethan discovers that everything he knows about his life is a lie. His mother is royalty. His father is not dead. His destiny is likely to get him killed.

Confronted by a vicious sorcerer determined to destroy the Makkai family, Ethan must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he’s going to save his mother and all the people of Tara, including the beautiful girl he’s fallen for.

Erika Lewi's debut novel is a fun young adult ride. Though occasionally uneven in execution, Game of Shadows more than makes for a good read with its ambition and solid storytelling. There's a lot going on from the first page; it's full of monsters and ghosts, family secrets and assassinations, hidden continents and ancient kingdoms. First in series, this is an inventive blend of a several genres (portal fantasy/supernatural) in one novel, and contains worldbuilding and magic systems that are definitely unique, though both based on/inspired by Celtic mythology. Action-packed and high adventure, even the book's missteps are forgivable considered the sheer amount of entertainment offered by Ethan's storyline.

While some of the plot twists in Game of Shadows left me with questions occasionally -- how did Ethan never notice Bartlett before that day if he's been there the whole time? etc -- Lewis writes creatively and uses her Celtic influences cleverly. Her plotting is mostly sound though not free of the ccasional clarity issue, and the pacing can be uneven. There are a few genre tropes to be found in its pages and Game of Shadows is not always able to avoid the pitfalls of predictability (Christian's role, especially, is no suprise). The largest strength of the story lies with the hidden world of Tara itself. Given the large amounts of info and detail, there is no surprise that every part of it, from Landover to Kilkerry feels solidly built. Lewis's characters are also interesting, but they aren't as well-developed as the other aspects of the novel. In particular, the main character of Ethan sometimes makes dumb decisions for plot reasons, and can also read as older or younger than his given age most of the time. 

The ending of Game of Shadows manages to be intriguing and satisfying, while still obviously geared toward creating the plot of a sequel to come. The events of the book were prologue to a larger struggle with Ethan's various enemies, sure to be explored further with this new threat looming. This first novel was very much Ethan's story as a young hero; his introduction to Tara is only the launchpoint of further complications and growth. Though his chief antagonist lacks the menace really needed to feel like a threat, the author has a lot of potential to explore in the world and customs of Tara and its diverse, magical countries.

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