Thursday, August 9, 2018

Shadowmancer (The Circle #1) by Lee Isserow

Jules is a powerful magician… but has spent much of his life avoiding the greater magical community living as normal a life he can with his husband and child

His magical skills are rare - and when a new supernatural threat those are in demand. The Circle needs his magic and his help - the world needs it. But Jules’s grandmother warned him about the Circle and how it was falling to selfish corruption… can Jules work with them even for the sake of humanity?

This book had a really excellent foundation, especially with some really good characters and world. We have Jules, a Black gay man with a strong grounding in social justice and considerable suspicion of authority. At this point it would be easy to create a shell character who exists more as a PSA than a character - but he isn’t; his opinions and vehement beliefs are worked well into the character and his story. We also have some really neatly incorporated world building through children’s stories which does an excellent job of introducing the world, his family - both his son and his infamous grandmother - and giving us some insight into magic. It was really neatly done and is an excellent example of how good the writing is

The actions scenes are fun and excellently written, well paced and nicely knife edged and in even the brief time we have we do get surprisingly amounts of information about the characters. Again with brief words we get a better shape of the world, the circle and the how magic works.

Unfortunately in addition to all that it was also… really short? And kind of undeveloped because of it. Like I love that Jules is gay and has a relationship with Akif and a son. But Akif is a name, I think he has three lines in the whole book. Yes there wasn’t a lot of chance to showcase this relationship but that, again, is part of how short this book was. The actual chance to develop Jules, Akif, his relationship, his history, who he is, who they are are all somewhat missing. We get Jules’s history with his grandmother and a brief reference as to why they’re in London but then we kind of hit the ground running, Akif is forgotten which is a shame because it clearly should be a major part of Jule’s life. It would have been nice to build more of a base line for Jules and Akif et al before the plot got moving, maybe introduced his powers, some concepts of magic etc. Because the author already did a really good job with the stories he tells his child (giving us some magical world building) which makes me think the that more world building would be really well done

Albeit there’s just a little side line of gross-out and obsession with orifices in the magic world we could probably do without.

This shortness/shallowness really shows when we come up against the Circle. After having some pretty good lines about how power corrupts, we come to the Circle, the powerful organisation of wizards that polices magic and various magical monsters that have burrowed through orifices to Earth… and shock it’s corrupt. And the boss man is kind of a caricature of awful... Again, I think it’s because of the general fast feel of the book that developing a more nuanced layered portrayal is sacrificed for just getting on with things. It doesn’t help that Jules is, I think, supposed to be resistant to hierarchical authority but instead comes off a bit… teenaged petulant? I mean the man’s a father, I’m expecting a grown adult here, not someone who meets an authority figure and team mates and starts snarking (amusing snarking, don’t get me wrong, but still). Those team members (who are racially diverse and led by a Black man) are also people who could use a little more development: Jules is working with them on several missions

I say all this because, just from this book, I can see the author can pull all this off with more space which is what leaves me kind of frustrated. The elements we do have of some of the character development, world building and little references like how the collected circle members are unwilling to make a minor sacrifice to help some injured members did a better a job of.

We have an excellent world with an array of excellent diversity, some real characters and concepts, some great political conflicts of power and self interest and actual motivation and direction as well as some nicely horrifying (if somewhat disturbing) supernatural threats to contend with all told with an excellent writing style - but a style that could do to be a little longer and give us more space to explore all of this.