Book Review

Half Sick Of Shadows

Half Sick of Shadows

  • Author: Laura Sebastian
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: July 6, 2021
  • Publisher: Ace

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: suicide, bullying, brief mention of rape, brief mention of animal abuse

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

The Lady of Shalott reclaims her story in this bold feminist reimagining of the Arthurian myth from the New York Times bestselling author of Ash Princess.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Arthurian retellings, and I absolutely can’t resist one that centers female characters and feminism. But this one felt like it fell a bit short for me. And it sucked, because I really wanted to love this book so badly.

The first issue that I noticed is that the story is choppy. The story is told in the present, but there are also flashbacks to the past and visions of the future, all of which would happen in a row. This got to be really confusing, and made it difficult to keep track of exactly when and where I was in the story. 

Rather than jumping into the story once Arthur is already king, this one mainly tells the story of the road to getting Arthur crowned. Sort of. Because it also talks about all the possible future paths, since Elaine is an oracle — she can see the potential paths that the future can take, although these are immensely changeable. So there’s a lot of speculation about what might happen.

While the story has an immense amount of potential, there are also some major flaws. First, there’s so much telling, rather than showing. Arthur is mostly a shadow of a character. We’re told that he’s charismatic, but aren’t really given the chance to see it. Instead, he comes across as a boy, and one who relies heavily on his friends to lead the way, rather than demonstrating any sort of confidence or capability to actually lead a country. Lancelot? He’s just kind of there, serving as a foil for the on-and-off romance while Elaine decides which future vision she’s going to believe will most likely occur. Gwen — I like that she’s portrayed less as a damsel in distress, and more as a fierce, feral woman connected to nature, but she fades so much after leaving Avalon. And I’ve always had a soft spot for Morgana, even though she always gets a bad rap in the story. I think this one does her more justice than most, to be fair. Elaine was a little bland, constantly worrying about the future and often replaying the same vision, slowing down the reading by forcing us to reread the same or very similar versions of the future. 

I was a little disappointed by the claims of bold feminism, too. While the norms are very different in Avalon, where gender roles and customs aren’t as restrictive and women have more rights, as soon as they ventured away from Avalon, they slipped right into traditional gender roles, conforming to the expected roles:

“…in a court where women are happy to fold themselves up tight to be more easily manageable, to swallow arsenic to be thought of as just a little bit sweeter.”

It’s easy to be feminist where women have equal rights, but it’s most important to fight for feminism when it’s hard. When women don’t have the same rights. When they’re expected to be manageable and sweet, and do what they’re told. But the only one who really ever stayed true and was a feminist even when it was hard was Morgana. All of the others just gave in and did what was easier, with the women often sacrificing far too much of themselves for Arthur, who appeared to not even notice what the women around him were giving up on his behalf.

Finally, some of the key parts of the story were changed. Mordred is changed from Arthur’s son to his stepbrother/brother-in-law, Morgause and Morgana are twins, Gwen has a huge secret that completely steals away any chance of feminism that she’s got, and Merlin was portrayed in a completely different manner than I’ve ever seen. I’m usually open to changes, but these were a little much for me. I’ll be sticking with the Camelot Rising series by Kiersten White.

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