The Beckoning Shadow By Katharine Blair
4 out of 5 stars
Out on the 2nd of July!
You’ve done worse. You’ll do worse. I think.
Review copy provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.
I wrote this review on the 11th of November 2018, quite a long time ago.
Any events or quotes referenced in this ARC may be revised or removed by the final publication.
Oddities live among us – a group of beings born with the ability to destroy with a single touch, draw out someone’s nightmares, teleport or unravel time itself. Strict laws enforced by the Wardens mean never revealing yourself to a Baseline, and keeping your powers in check. Vesper (yes, Vesper) Montgomery, a teenage Oddity, finds herself on the run after losing control of her abilities. Fearing discovery from the Wardens, Vesper lives on the fringe of society, getting by on the streets and drifting from city to city. That is until she encounters a community of Oddities in San Franciso hoping to compete in the Tournament of the Unwinding; an underground fighting tournament where Oddities can unleash their full potential against one another in the caged ring. The prize? One million dollars. Oh, and the chance to Unwind one event from your past. Now with something (and someone) to fight for, Vesper must learn to harness her powers or else risk losing it all.
The Beckoning Shadow was an unexpected surprise! I’ve never really been a fan of action-heavy reads, and it all sounded a bit too much. Weirdly, I wasn’t too keen on the premise, to begin with. MMA/UFC/Fake-o wrestling have been interests of mine over the years, rubbed off onto me by my overzealous MMA fighting brother. Magic and cage matches should have been a match made in heaven but something about it didn’t grab me, and neither did the first few chapters which were heavy with world building and exposition, as Fantasy books tend to be. It wasn’t until I was a few chapters in that I really got into it, and when I did, I couldn’t put it down.
Vesper (again: yes, Vesper*) had a refreshing and humorous inner dialogue that I found annoying to start with. It wasn’t until I realised how similar her stream of consciousness ran to my own that I really understood her. After this revelation, I began to enjoy Vesper’s voice, bad jokes and all, and enjoyed Vesper as a character. She was a bit of a mess – what magically inclined runaway isn’t? – but she has a lot of love and humour in her, as well as some justifiable anger and hurt. Besides the whole magic wielding thing, Vesper, and most of Blair’s characters felt so real and were east to love. I have a special love for Anabelle who was such a lovely character and I hope to see more of her in the future.
The romance was very sweet, but as with Shade Me** I felt that I had to knock off a star for the relationship once again being between a teenager and a 20-something. This seems to be popular at the moment and I just can’t get behind it. Probably something about me being a 20-something myself and working with teenagers. Otherwise, I loved the slow and steady build-up and the compatibility of the characters. They joked and mucked around, hurt and had real discussions about their relationship that I found really refreshing in a YA novel. That isn’t to say this doesn’t happen, but I felt that Blair did it very well.
I haven’t read many contemporary fantasy novels recently (or at all this year, apparently) but there really is something enjoyable about the potential for magical throwdowns happening just down the block. Some of Blair’s worldbuilding felt clumsy at times and I just didn’t understand some aspects, but Blair has woven together a compelling universe that has a lot of scope for the series, whether it is following Vesper and co. or some new Oddities. Overall The Beckoning Shadow is fun and exciting, with plenty of heart thrown in. Blair has crafted a wonderful debut novel and I’m excited to see where she, and her Oddities, go next.
*I recently had a discussion with some of the students in the book club we run at work about terrible character names. While America Singer still tops my charts as an all-time bad character name, Vesper must be up there. I will forgive Blair for it though because she handles it well.
** Yes, I’m still bitter about Shade Me but these two books are incomparable. Though I remember thinking as I read The Beckoning Shadow that Vesper was an often tortured and sometimes brutal character done right.