Game of Shadows: An action-packed YA adventure

Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis YA fantasy book reviewsGame of Shadows by Erika Lewis YA fantasy book reviewsGame of Shadows by Erika Lewis

High school is hard enough on its own — there’s homework, bullies, unrequited crushes, and overprotective parents, just to name a few hurdles on the way to freedom and adulthood. But that’s nothing compared to the challenges presented in Erika Lewis’ Game of Shadows (2017); our intrepid hero must also learn sword fighting, diplomacy, and an entirely new language and culture if he is to save his mother from an evil sorcerer’s machinations. By comparison, Advanced Geometry seems a lot more appealing!

Ethan Makkai, newly fourteen, wants only one thing for his birthday: to walk to school without his overbearing mother, Caitríona, at his side. Sure, Los Angeles isn’t the safest city in the world, but what’s the worst that could happen? Unfortunately, after Ethan sneaks out of their apartment and gets into a fight with a bully, he returns home to discover their belongings torn to shreds and his mother abducted. A strange man calling himself Captain Bartlett informs Ethan that Caitríona has been taken back to her homeland, a mysterious magic-shrouded island called Tara, and she’d fled to Los Angeles to protect her unborn son from the very enemies who captured her. Ethan has inherited a special ability to see and speak with ghosts, and this gift/curse means that he has a very important part to play in the political upheaval currently plaguing Tara.

Once in Tara, and specifically in the kingdom of Landover, Ethan meets family members he never knew existed, including an older cousin who is expected to ascend the Landover throne. Luckily, his cousin Christian is happy to throw his support behind Ethan and assist with the search for Caitríona, and with the addition of an extremely beautiful healer named Lily, the trio sets off on horseback to travel through the other kingdoms of Tara. Along the way, they learn more about the circumstances which caused Caitríona to flee Tara, the identity of Ethan’s father, and what caused the people of Tara to separate themselves from the known world a few centuries prior. And, of course, they get into all kinds of scrapes with the local residents, and are repeatedly threatened by the evil sorcerer’s minions.

Tara itself is well-described, with interesting landmarks or unique features marking each kingdom. It’s also populated with a wide breadth of people and creatures, from Brownies to shape-shifting Cat Sidhe to Faoladhs, fearsome wolf-men, and much more, all influenced by aspects or themes in Celtic mythology. Each culture or kingdom is marked by certain symbols and brands, and each has access to different kinds of magical abilities or disciplines which add depth and complexity to Game of Shadows. Though Ethan is surprisingly underwhelmed by the notion of traveling to a mysterious hidden island, he tends to react appropriately to encounters with strange beings, whether a situation calls for politeness or outrage.

As in many YA novels, the younger characters are filled with a desperate need to prove themselves as independent nearly-adults, while the adults have their own ideas about how the world should work. Most of the adult characters have the types of names you might expect from a Celtic-influenced and –descended society: Fearghus, Runyun, Morgan, Clothilde. Younger characters have a bit more of a grab-bag feel to them: Adam, Mysty, Seamus, Alastair, and as mentioned, Lily and Christian. Some characters have detailed knowledge of the outside world, while others seem completely ignorant of its existence. It’ll be interesting to see how Lewis approaches the divide between Tara and our own world, and how she allows for travel between worlds, in future installments.

The action in Game of Shadows is non-stop, to the point where it felt almost frenzied. Nearly every chapter contains a dramatic argument, a dangerous situation, or a physical altercation which threatens someone’s life and impedes the progress of Ethan’s quest. It’s difficult to get a sense of urgency or dire consequences for any particular battle when Ethan spends so much time either on his heels or trading blows with some fiend or another. Additionally, I was shocked when a character remarked that only a few days passed between Ethan’s arrival and his battle with the Big Bad; his emotional development and proficiency with weapons suggests otherwise.

Lewis does a good job of incorporating established elements of Celtic mythology into her world-building, and modifies them in such a way as to allow for cultural and linguistic shifts over the centuries that Tara was cut off from its neighbors. I thought this was a smart touch, and showed a level of consideration that I wasn’t expecting. Celtic symbols and motifs abound, particularly with regard to ravens and the implementation of Celtic-derived terms for magical spells.

Game of Shadows would be perfect for YA readers, especially those near Ethan’s age, who enjoy high fantasy and plenty of drama. The action scenes are detailed without going into too much gore and romance scenes are realistic for the age group without becoming explicit. The epilogue hints at even more adventure to come, so readers who enjoy Game of Shadows will have much to look forward to as the series continues.

Publication date: February 28, 2017. A young man plagued by the ability to see ghosts races to save the mythological land of Tara from a terrible fate in Erika Lewis’s stunning debut, Game of Shadows. Thousands of years ago in Ireland, an ancient race fought a world-changing battle―and lost. Their land overrun, the Celtic gods and goddesses fled, while the mythical races and magical druids sailed to an uncharted continent, cloaked so mankind could never find it. This new homeland was named Tara. In modern day Los Angeles, Ethan Makkai struggles with an overprotective mother who never lets him out of her sight, and a terrifying secret: he can see ghosts. Desperate for a taste of freedom, he leaves his apartment by himself for the first time―only to find his life changed forever. After being attacked by dive-bombing birds, he races home to find the place trashed and his mother gone. With the help of a captain from Tara who has been secretly watching the Makkais for a long time, Ethan sets out to save his mother; a journey that leads him to the hidden lands, and straight into the arms of a vicious sorcerer who will stop at nothing until he controls Tara.With new-found allies including Christian, the cousin he never knew he had, and Lily, the sword-slinging healer who’d rather fight than mend bones, Ethan travels an arduous road―dodging imprisonment, battling beasts he thought only existed in nightmares, and accepting help from the beings he’s always sought to avoid: ghosts. This L.A. teen must garner strength from his gift and embrace his destiny if he’s going to save his mother, the fearless girl he’s fallen for, and all the people of Tara.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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4 comments

  1. It sounds like loads of fun for the right age-group, and I appreciate the wealth of Celtic detail.

    • I think you’re absolutely correct — the right age group would love this one. Lewis definitely spent a lot of time on researching Celtic mythology, and it paid off.

  2. This sounds like something my 14 year old son might really love. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    • While I was reading it, I actually wondered if it might be something your son might like, since you’ve mentioned that he enjoys Rick Riordan’s work. :)

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