“Return to the magic-drenched world of Tassar, where ancient artefacts awaken and the seeds of corruption are sown.”
The Iron Crown was a promising start to the Dragon Spirits series, but The Shadow Gate absolutely takes the story to the next level.
Everything I loved from the first book is again present in this sequel, but somehow just executed even better. The story takes a much darker turn, but because MacRae also infuses the story with SO much heart, it never loses its comforting and exciting touch. This is character-driven epic fantasy at its very best!
I am absolutely blown away by the character development in this instalment and was quite surprised and excited by the bold turns in some characters’ character arcs. We really go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with these characters, and I loved that each of them is allowed to be so authentically flawed and messy.
I think that these characters were more easily likeable in the first instalment, but here they become more well-rounded, and, as a result, more human. And yes, sometimes that meant I wanted to smack them over the head or give them a good shake (mostly looking at you, Fenn), but that’s exactly why they felt so real and why I am now so terribly emotionally invested in all of them.
It’s also quite impressive to me how smoothly MacRae has built up this rather large cast of characters, even adding a new POV in this instalment (which I loved, give me all the pirate/seafaring vibes!), and still manages to give them all the time and care they deserve. There were maybe a handful of supporting characters that felt a bit flat and forgettable to me, but I think that only stood out because all the other characterisations are so stupendously strong.
I especially love how each of these protagonists is driven forward by a similar motivation, that being the love for their loved ones, yet none of their journeys feel interchangeable. Family, love, loyalty, and friendship are very big themes in this story, and they are explored in both the most heartbreaking and most heartwarming ways.
The world building is another aspect that is only continuing to get better and better the further into the series we get. I absolutely adore the concept of the Dragon Spirits and loved seeing them become an even more integral part of the story here. Not only because it’s simply damn cool to read about these majestic and awe-inspiring beings, but also because we really dive deep into just how dangerous and capricious they really are. Their corruptive powers have big psychological impacts on some of our protagonists, and I loved all the dangerous mind games that were being played.
Speaking of dangerous, MacRae does such a brilliant job of building up tension and subtly reminding both the characters and the readers of the looming threat of the Myr. I really love that these dangerous beings continue to be so shrouded in mystery, as that only makes them more frightening. These characters might all be on their own separate journeys, but their paths keep interweaving because of the overarching threat of the Myr and their collective impending doom.
Also, the way that the events of the prequel novella The Citrine Key (which I highly recommend reading before diving into this book) are tying back into the story here is simply magnificent and only raises the stakes to even more unimaginable heights. The fate of the world might just be in these characters’ hands, whether they like it or not, and that makes this book absolutely unputdownable from start to finish.
All in all, I think The Shadow Gate is the sequel that this epic series both needed and deserved. MacRae strikes the perfect balance between progressing the plot and putting all the pieces in place for what I can only imagine will be an EPIC finale, which makes this a damn near perfect sequel in my eyes.
Wondrous world building, complex interpersonal relationships, deeply flawed characters, queer love, magical artefacts, capricious dragon spirits, talking griffins, cinematic action sequences, heavy emotional gut punches, and so much page-turning intrigue; the Dragon Spirits series has it all. I can’t recommend it highly enough!