Review of the Month: Half Sick of Shadows

*There may be some spoilers here, nothing that will give away the plot but there are specific instances that I felt needed to be discussed for a complete review.*

I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this book when I ordered it, but I needed a change of pace after reading a few thrillers back to back. These retellings of legend or myth tend to swing between amazing and incredibly disappointing. I didn’t dislike this book, but I also didn’t close it feeling completely satisfied.

First, to argue that this is a feminist novel, we would have to squint and take a couple of steps away. Gwen, Morgana, and Elaine never quite get the praise they deserve. These are some badass ladies and their whole raison d’etre is to protect Arthur. And to me, it felt the entirety of the book they are diminishing themselves and their gifts in order to further his agenda. Morgana’s plot line the final quarter of the book was entirely disappointing and, after taking some time to digest, completely unnecessary. Gwen is shoved into a situation she obviously doesn’t want to be in and Elaine literally pushes for status quo the whole book. And for what?

Second, there are some historical inaccuracies. I’m not going to really dive into them here as I am not an expert by any means, but I think if you’re going to shell out a 430 page book about it, you might want to cover your bases. There are some good reviews on Goodreads that go further into it, especially the fashion and food choices. After going through and reading a hand full, it really changed my perspective on the novel. This didn’t change the quality of it as the writing was wonderful, but just made me think that maybe the author didn’t have a good handle on the historical period.

Third, the jumps in time didn’t do the book any justice. I agree with many of the other reviews I checked out: anything with an oracle in it needs to be really thought out. I felt we spent so much time thinking about what could possibly happen that what was actually going on in the moment didn’t really matter. Elaine’s visions were more annoying than anything else, because we never actually got to see how it played out. Spoiler right here, skip to next paragraph. Did Lance ever actually cheat on her like she saw in her visions? No idea. Does the war with Mordred ever happen, you know like the whole point of the book? No idea. Is Arthur successful on the throne? We don’t know. What about Gwen – is she banished? Couldn’t tell you. I loved the writing, but after a few days to think back on it I realized I had no idea how the story actually ended.

Lastly, I didn’t really care for the characters. Elaine was totally insufferable. She leads the group into self-fulfilling prophecies and makes some weird calls that don’t totally make sense. Arthur is completely useless and at least according to the book, terrible at pretty much everything. Lancelot and Guinevere were just… slaughtered in this retelling. Morgana might have well not even been in the book for what little use she served for the plot!

Overall, cute book. It was an easy read from a different genre than what I am used to. I haven’t dove into a fantasy in a while. The writing was lovely. I felt like I was right there in Avalon! But don’t go into it thinking there’s a whole lot more than that.

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