SPFBO Status: Cut
Overview (No Spoilers):
And we’re off! My first read of SPFBO begins with Shadowmancy the coming of age story by Jason Franks.
Quay is a boy when the novel begins, bookish, and leashed to the strict two-block radius his mother gives him as his domain. Quay’s dad is only nominally in the picture, home for just a few weeks a year from his mysterious professorial job. When he’s 13, Quay decides to break out of his confinement, following his father back to the mountainous abode that is the Academy. However, his father is incapacitated in an altercation with the Chancellor. The Chancellor invites younger Quay to come and study at the institute, thus beginning Quay’s journey to discover the Mysteries and his power. His path is fraught with his father’s enemies, however, and Quay must discover the hidden faction bent on destroying him before he learns too much.
First of all, I was delighted to find original artwork by Nicholas Hunter scattered through the pages of Shadowmancy. I’m a fan of graphic novels, and it’s always interesting to see the artist’s interpretation of the story as compared to the images I’ve built in my own mind. I appreciated the images which were included and would have loved even more of these tidbits in each chapter.
I wanted to love this novel; a magical coming to age story set in a school environment is right up my alley. However, issues with world-building, plot, and characterization kept me from fully immersing in the Shadowmancy world. The parameters of the magic felt vague and unexplored, confined to the Academy for the most part, and more theory than practice. In addition, we only meet two professors, and, aside from a few other student characters, leaving the Academy to feel rather hollow. As for the plot, it was hard to understand why Quay would leave his devoted mother to follow his cold, distant father into the unknown. More problematic was the vague faction against Professor Quay (the MC’s father). For most of the book, it was unclear why Professor Quay would have enemies so impassioned that they would continue their vendetta against the younger Quay even when his father was out of the picture. In general, much of the time it seemed like Quay’s problems were all in his head. Which leads me to my other sticking point: Quay himself. The main character spends much of the book being a loner, shirking any proffers of friendship, becoming more power-hungry along the way. It was difficult to find redeeming qualities in Quay for all but the last 20% of the book.
That said, there were several points where Franks’ story-telling really shone, namely, in the creative twists of his magical world. I liked the author’s description of magic as Art, not just formulaic spell-casting. The quirks of the Academy, though sparsely described, were interesting when given, and I was fascinated by the Library of Shadows. Indeed, the shadows and Quay’s magic with them were my favorite parts of the novel.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- I felt like the conflict with Boudreaux was resolved far too conveniently, from earlier descriptions of the character, it didn’t seem likely that he would resign himself to being put in his place by someone he despised as much as Quay. Similarly, when Quay gets all of his knowledge from the Library of Shadows the reader loses a lot of the fun and interest of setting a novel at a magical academy. We don’t see him trying out his power, making mistakes, or developing his skill over time. One minute he’s poor, ignorant Quay, the next he’s Quay the all-powerful, magician to be feared.
- Quay gives his dad an aneurysm, but then is upset when someone burns down his house with his parents in them, describing it as “an attack on my property.” I mean, can you get any more self-centered?
Glossolalia– profuse and often emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in some states of religious ecstasy and in some schizophrenic states