The Lands of Faerie, after a struggle and a near-death experience, have a true High Prince again. The rule of the false Basilisk Prince is over, and the long process of healing the damage caused by his reign can finally happen.There are holdouts, those who do not want to submit to the new Prince, and there are problems and challenges in healing the land. But the aftermath of victory is not always easy and the new High Prince is focused on the tasks ahead.
It’s a pity, though, that the Shadowlands, better known as Earth, have lingering problems of their own. The Wild Hunt is on the loose, finding prey in the Shadowlands far easier, and far safer, than returning to face judgement, sanction or worse at the hands of the new High Prince. Also, holdouts from the Basilisk Prince’s reign also may be lurking on Earth, too. The High Prince has a full plate dealing with the problems in Faerie, and so cannot send precious resources to deal with the problems of Earth.
Thus, on Earth, caught in the midst of these troubles are some Exiled faerie of various sorts, those previously touched by Faerie and the Hunt, and, most importantly, a young faerie-descended psychic with a powerful and sometimes debilitating gift that might be the key to solving the problems facing Earth and Faerie, if it doesn’t get her killed first.
Shadowlands is the sequel to The Mirror Prince, the events taking place almost immediately after the events of The Mirror Prince. Although the book coyly keeps some details of the first book ambiguous, this ambiguity is soon shed and the story and resolution of The Mirror Prince is soon revealed to the reader as it is communicated to the characters.
The focus of Shadowlands is the aforementioned faerie-descended psychic, Valory Martin. Rescued from a very bad situation by Alejandro, an exiled Faerie, she has been made part of his family-by-choice, his fara’ip. Now moved from Spain to their new home of Toronto, almost all of the action, aside from some visits to Faerie, center around the city and its other faerie inhabitants.
The strengths of Shadowlands are many. The beautiful lines of the author’s writing which I made note in my review of The Mirror Prince are here. I can see the time and development between the two novels, and Malan has only improved in the intervening years. Both Faerie and Toronto are illuminated and brought to life in vivid detail that brought it alive for me as a reader. In a manner similar to Courtney Schafer’s Shattered Sigil series, Malan alternates an intimate, evocative first person viewpoint (Valory’s) with third person points of view from other characters.
Too, and again, a varied set of complex characters underpin and inhabit her story. Conflicting loyalties, relationships and backstories fill the book. If anything, some of these backstories are underwritten and could have been fleshed out even more than the rich material that Malan gives us. The conflicts, clashes and even just conversations between these characters are illuminating, interesting and multi-layered.
There is a clear love and mining of the author’s own life and background in this novel, ranging from its location to the Spanish cultural heritage of Valory and Martin. In many ways, this felt like a more personally written and invested book in some ways than The Mirror Prince. Too, this book, with Valory as one of its major points of view, does a lot more explanatory worldbuilding than its predecessor. The Mirror Prince relies on more oblique techniques to have readers understand some faerie terms such as fara’ip and dra’aj,
By contrast, Shadowlands uses exposition in some key parts to explain these and other concepts to Valory. This did allow me as a reader to clarify some slight mis-impressions I had when reading The Mirror Prince. In addition to setting the action mostly in Toronto, this also did help give the novel a more urban fantasy than epic fantasy feel. That said, there are a couple of bits about her universe revealed that expand the playground of her constructed world far beyond anything guessed in the more epic-feeling The Mirror Prince.
My complaints with Shadowlands are minor. A few plot points seem to happen for the sake of their occurrence rather than organically arising out of the plot and the situation. In particular, a character death, although necessary for the plot and stakes raising, doesn’t seem to mean anything more than a way to raise the stakes on another character. I think the death could have been handled, described and worked better than it was.
Starting with Shadowlands, although it focuses on a new set of characters, would be, in my mind, a mistake if you intend to later read The Mirror Prince. Yes, this novel can be read without reading The Mirror Prince, as everything of importance is explained in Shadowlands. On the other hand, major questions whose resolution are part of the heart of The Mirror Prince will already be well known and spoiled , diminishing their impact and narrative importance. I wonder if Shadowlands are, in a real way, an attempt by the author to reboot the universe more than write a true sequel. Either way, the novel is a success, and if Malan wants to write more set in this universe, I am on board.