Book Review: ‘A Sleight of Shadows’ by Kat Howard

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Sydney gave up everything to rid the unseen world of corruption. Almost completely mundane, she’s struggling to find her place in the world without her magic. But then the worst possible thing happens – the House of Shadows begins to rebuild itself. Sydney may not have her magic anymore but she refuses to allow that abomination to return to life. She’s not sure she has anything left to give but she’s determined to find a way to truly end the House of Shadows once and for all in Kat Howard’s newest work, A Sleight of Shadows.

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Saga Press for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of A Sleight of Shadows contains some spoilers!]

Magic has a painful price in Kat Howard’s novels

Magic is a pay-to-play game in A Sleight of Shadows. Using magic has a price that is paid in bodily pain for the magician. Then some magicians found a way to game the system. If they took magicians and tortured the magic out of them, then they could access this magic later with no ill effects. The magic was basically prepaid for. It just took torturing and killing innocent victims. In order to avoid feeling attached to the victims, those in charge decided to use children for these sacrifices. 

Sydney was one of those children. But she managed to survive and break her way out of the House of Shadows (where the victims were kept and tortured) in Howard’s An Unkindness of Magicians. Then she rose to the top of the magical world and tore the House of Shadows apart. She sacrificed her magic in the process. But she thought that the House of Shadows was gone for good so the trade was worth it to her. Not everyone agreed with what she did though. Having to pay for their own magic was a painful shock to most magicians.

After An Unkindness of Magicians

Sydney had been prepared to do anything to end the House of Shadows, even die. What she hadn’t really thought about was living without her magic. She’s having a hard time adjusting to life as a mundane. Her magic isn’t completely, totally gone. She has just enough left to light a candle. And with intense, bloody practice she can also extinguish them, some of the time. But it’s a horrible fight and she is searching for a way to truly access magic again.

At the same time that Sydney is struggling without her magic, the rest of the unseen world is having problems too. Beyond the adjustment of having to pay for their magic, the Houses that make up the unseen world are crumbling. Never before have the houses needed repairs or exhibited wear. Always the houses have obeyed the head of the house and provided what they wanted, how they wanted it. Now the houses are breaking down, literal cracks are showing up, paint is peeling, and things are wearing out. Beyond that, the magic isn’t working right. Sometimes the house does what it’s supposed to, sometimes it doesn’t. Random magic is occurring, it’s raining inside, plants are turning to stone, and no one knows why it’s happening or how to fix it.

A Sleight of Shadows

All anyone is sure of is that it started when Sydney broke the connection to the House of Shadows. People are beginning to whisper that things should return to how they were before. That the House of Shadows needs to be rebuilt and filled with sacrifices again. But they are only whispering, for now.

And in central park, more odd things are happening. Strange trees have shown up overnight. They whisper of pain and loneliness. Their flowers are made of bones and skeletons can be seen in their trunks if you know how to look. Even mundanes are feeling the atmosphere the trees create. And the fountain that anchored the House of Shadows, broken when Sydney broke shadows but since repaired, is broken again. Magic is hovering like a cloud in the park. Something is coming.

Sydney is strong and vulnerable done right

In An Unkindness of Magicians, Sydney is so strong. She has a purpose and she never deviates from it. In A Sleight of Shadows, we get to see a vulnerable Sydney. She is still strong, she still does everything she can to protect others. But she has to find a new way to do things without her magic and she struggles with it. It’s hard to suddenly see yourself differently. Sydney cries, she feels lost, and she bleeds. Then she gets back up and finds a new way to deal with her problems.

I love that this struggle and pain don’t change who Sydney is. She might not be able to devastate her foes with a twist of her fingers, but she still makes her plans and in the end, she gets there. All the things Sydney goes through could have easily made her ruthless or even downright evil, but she remains a caring, empathic person who always finds a way to protect the innocent. All I can say is the real world needs a Sydney!

A Sleight of Shadows is an inspiring and enjoyable tale

Howard has hit gold again. I loved the first part of Sydney’s story and I love the conclusion just as much. Howard crafted a tale based on institutionalized pain and misery that manages to be inspirational and hopeful instead of depressing. In many ways, A Sleight of Shadows makes Sydney’s plight in An Unkindness of Magicians even more real. It’s great and wonderful to take on an unfair system and tear it down. But the truth is that not everyone will be happy scrapping that system. There’s a reason unfair systems are created and maintained in the first place. So seeing magicians push back against Sydney’s victory makes perfect sense. 

Of course, they would miss the ease that the House of Shadows allowed them. And of course, there would be some (entitled brats who have never suffered a day in their lives) who would want to return to the old system. This is exactly what we see in real life (think of Jim Crow laws after the end of slavery) so by having some magicians fight back and having Sydney continue her crusade, Howard adds a layer of realism to Sydney’s story that I really appreciated.

Look for A Sleight of Shadows coming April 25th

Magic and fantasy fans everywhere will want to share Sydney’s journey later this month. Sydney is such a strong yet caring character that anyone will enjoy getting to know her. I highly recommend this book for anyone searching for a well-crafted modern fantasy, a great magic story, or a strong female lead done right.

Of course, check out An Unkindness of Magicians first or the story will be missing some important context. Look for Howard’s A Sleight of Shadows in stores and online and leave the mundane world behind for a few hours.

My Rating: 10/10

A Sleight of Shadows by Kat Howard is available on April 25 from Saga Press. Are you interested in checking it out? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of the first novel, An Unkindness of Magicians.

Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

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I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter
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