“Return to Kat Howard’s Alex Award–winning world begun in An Unkindness of Magicians , a secret society of power-hungry magicians in New York City.”
A Sleight of Shadows by Kat Howard, part of The Unseen World series perfectly expresses a dark and complicated story interlaced with an exciting magic system. If anything we have learned from the slightly twee world of Harry Potter is that there is a yearning and readership for the darker types of magic for adult readers. Especially ones where there are huge prices to pay for the use of magic, because nothing good can come free.
Much like the series’ first novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, A Sleight of Shadows stars a cast of characters and viewpoints. However most of our story is expressed by our protagonist Sydney, and the newcomer to magic Mia. In nature, ravens flock together in something called “unkindness.” And while the symbolism of ravens is not overt, calling a group of magicians an unkindness resonates and perfectly encapsulates Kat Howard’s dark world. Sydney battled and fought hard in book one and made tremendous sacrifices destroying an integral part of herself to bring down The House of Shadows. Now as things escalate again and her choices of how to deal with the new power dynamic change, Sydney has to adapt or be destroyed.
But what I missed wholeheartedly in A Sleight of Shadows was a connection to the characters; I wanted to care desperately about the trials and tribulations they faced. What Sydney, Mia, and company are confronting is no small thing, so where was the emotion, the rage? In the first book, Kat Howard wrote words that practically dripped venom in An Unkindness of Magicians. The characters of A Sleight of Shadows had much less emotional depth and they felt oddly similar to each other, aside from heartbreaking scenes at the story’s end.
Mechanically, the story is well-written. The action scenes are well done, as is in any of Howard’s novels. The overall ambiance is there as well. When I think of Howard’s books, all of her books remind me of a beautiful garden full of roses that want to prick you until you have had blood running down your arms. Beautiful and cruel. And this certainly achieved that feeling. That I loved, and this aura her books have will always have me clamoring for more of her work.
Also, I got quite a kick out of the new characters, kids really. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and the excitement mixed with naivete was endearing. If allowed to do some magic, I would be excited beyond belief.
However again, the je ne se quois prevalent in the first book is missing here. Yes, all the pieces are present. We have a great cast of characters. We have necessary complications, such as a new crop of magicians to add new life and new perspectives. We have excellent pacing, as we did in the first novel. We have a very similar story to the first novel.
But ground altogether, the story still feels flat.
As a reader, if there were another 100 pages of story, characters, and plot, I would undoubtedly be much more enthralled. But as it stands, it did not entirely excite me as much as I wish it had. However, the book has many good things. Much like any of Kat Howard’s novels, I suggest giving it a chance as your mileage may vary.