Shadowcaster: Shattered Realms, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Shadowcaster: Shattered Realms, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Solid, exciting sequel with a new girl-power character.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The type of magic in this series incorporates talismans to concentrate power, and mages are gifted in various areas -- healing or mind control with touch. Readers can think about how this magical world differs from others they've read about. Much on battle strategy, the life of a soldier, and how prisoners of war are treated, all of which can be compared with real armies in times of war.

Positive Messages

Loyalty to family, friends, and fellow soldiers carries people through wartime. Shows how ignorance and deliberate misinformation drive discrimination -- no, the mages of the north cannot turn southern soldiers into animals. Tackles sexism in the army, too, and shows women in power -- as queen, as a captain in the army, as spies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

At almost 16, Lyss looks more WNBA basketball player than preening princess. She's addressed as Captain Gray more often and is a capable leader and strategic thinker. When she suffers a loss, she gets drunk and belligerent but quickly regains her composure when duty calls. Captain Matelon is singularly focused on his duty most of the time, capably commanding his troops, even when losing is certain.

Violence

Some battle scenes with heavy casualties. Not many gory details but a mention that some warriors possessing magic could only be disposed of by cutting off their heads and legs and that others were torn to bits by flying shrapnel staining the snow red. A few mourned deaths: A guard dies after an ambush, and someone's fiancé dies in the slaughter of her whole town. Two men are found with their throats slit, men fall to their deaths, a character is gravely injured by falling rocks, another is poisoned and nearly dies. Plenty of mentions of past wrongs in this long war: a soldier princess' head sent back to her mother in a box, a king who killed all his brothers, a spy who got her throat slit.

Sex

Main characters kiss and grope with talk of wishing for more and wishing for a "sheath." Talk of other characters, teens, in a sexual relationship. The graceful handling of an unwanted erection and some made-up bawdy talk about one male soldier's relationship with a female soldier.

Language

Slightly saltier than the last book. "A--hole" a handful of times and a few of "bastards," "s--t," "hell," and "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lyss is only 15 but a seasoned soldier. She drinks wine and ale with friends in bars and at celebratory royal gatherings. She gets really drunk once when she feels profound loss and regrets it. Breon often smokes a substance called leaf. While he claims not to be addicted, it'll be clear to readers that he is very much addicted to it. He craves it constantly and it negatively affects his life.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shadowcaster, by Cinda Williams Chima, is the second book in the Shattered Realms fantasy series, a spin-off of the bestselling Seven Realms series. If you haven't read the first series, you can still keep up -- there's a map and some explanation near the beginning of the first book, Flamecaster, of how the magic in this world works. Just like in the first book, there's a war raging. Expect many deaths on the battlefield but not many gory details: Some warriors possessing magic can only be disposed of by cutting off their heads and legs, and flying shrapnel tears up soldiers and stains the snow red. You'll find a few mourned deaths: A guard dies after an ambush, and someone's fiancé dies in the slaughter of her whole town. Characters in their teens are treated as adult soldiers and drink adult drinks: wine and ale. One character is addicted to a smoked substance called leaf. Language is a little saltier than in the first book: "a--hole" is the most common insult. Readers who enjoy strong female characters will love Lyss. She looks more like a WNBA basketball star than a preening princess and is an accomplished soldier and capable leader to boot.

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What's the story?

In SHADOWCASTER, Lyss, a 15-year-old princess, is living a soldier's life fighting the war against Arden. She faces one more big battle before the marching season is over, and it's time to return home to her queendom in the north for the winter. That battle is against Captain Hal Matelon, who realizes too late that he's been set up to fail by his mercurial king. He's sent to a mountain pass where his soldiers, all fresh recruits, are easy pickings. And the four mages normally deployed to help fight against the magic of the north turn their magic on him. Lyss sees what's happening and intervenes, surprising herself by saving the enemy captain's life before he can be taken out by his own army. As the southerners retreat, Lyss and her colleagues celebrate an easy victory, until they realize the real reason for it: to distract her troops while Arden soldiers slaughter a defenseless northern town. It's a grave end to the marching season, causing Lyss to vow to stop waiting for the southerners to invade. She will take the fight to them, hoping to finally turn the course of the war. As she makes her case with her mother and her advisors at court, begging for a chance to prove herself, she almost misses her opportunity. A musician named Breon with powers to enchant his listeners leads Lyss away from her guard and into an ambush.

Is it any good?

While the shift in main characters may disappoint, little else will in this epic-sized warring-kingdoms fantasy sequel with hints of magic and romance. The same formula from the first book works well here: Readers are shuffled among different characters' perspectives, especially those of the main love interests, the very un-princessy Lyss, and the dedicated Captain Matelon. Their first exciting rendezvous on the battlefield tips you off that they will meet again and have to grapple with their enemy status.

If you're not too distracted waiting for the sparks to fly, Breon's story and his mysterious mage mark on his neck -- just like Jenna's -- will have you puzzling out how all the characters from both Flamecaster and Shadowcaster fit together. Much is revealed in the last few pages, setting up what nearly promises to be a very exciting third installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the armies in Shadowcaster. What do the southerners think of women in the northern army? What do they think of the mages? How much of what they think is true? How much is misinformation? How and why do you think it was spread?

  • Breon is clearly addicted to the substance called leaf. How do you know? Is he ever honest with himself about how it affects him?

  • Did it surprise you that the main characters from Book 1 aren't the main characters in Shadowcaster? Who do you think will take the lead in Book 3? Do you think there will be another love story in the mix?

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