Conspiracies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Shadow Grail #2: Conspiracies
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I began this series after the publisher sent me a copy of the first book.  I’m not sure that it’s one that I would have picked up on my own, as I haven’t been as pleased with Lackey’s work of late.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it—a lot.  So much so that I was excited to see the second book turn up in my mailbox.  The second Shadow Grail novel delivers solid action and likeable characters in a magic school unlike the more famous Hogwarts.

(Description nicked from the back of the book.)

“Spirit and her friends Burke, Loch, Muirin, and Addie have managed to defeat the evil force that has been killing students at Oakhurst Academy for the past forty years—or so they think.  When a series of magical attacks disrupts the school, the headmaster, Doctor Ambrosius, calls upon alumnus and security expert Mark Rider to protect the campus—and to start training the students for war.  Against whom—or what—the students don’t know.

As the only student without magic, Spirit doesn’t trust Mark or his methods.  She knows that Oakhurst isn’t safe, and if she and her friends want to live long enough to graduate, they have to find out what is really going on—before it’s too late.”

As far as the whole “magical school” concept goes, I’d place this series squarely between Rowling’s Harry Potter and Grossman’s The Magicians.  It doesn’t have the sense of whimsy that permeated the Harry Potter books, even during its darkest installments.  Nor does it have the stifling ennui of Grossman’s world.  Rather, the Shadow Grail books create an atmosphere that’s oppressive without being depressive, dark without being bleak.  There are certainly touches that will delight, but a good portion of the setting is meant to instill a specific feeling, and it does so quite well.

I like that Spirit ostensibly has no magic, and yet she doesn’t turn out to be the class outcast.  Her other skills—notably her intelligence and perseverance—keep her from being isolated from the other characters.  Even so, this novel has her a bit more on the outside than in the previous book: circumstances push her to observe things that the others don’t, and they’re not easy things to face.  Thankfully, Spirit doesn’t stay on the outs with the others for very long, but it does provide a bit of conflict between the friends.  And this is a welcome change from the trope that the kids are always fighting a battle against outside forces.

I liked Spirit’s friends as well.  They’re written to be very real, with normal teenage issues and problems.  They struggle with making friends, passing classes, and figuring out what comes after they graduate.  Granted, a lot of this is complicated with magical attacks and secret societies, but the basic template for “realistic teenage experience” is all right there.

The teaser text on the back of the book led me to believe that the war training would begin fairly quickly in the story, and yet it didn’t happen until at least halfway through.  Because of this, the first part of the book seemed to move a little slowly, simply because my expectations were a bit skewed.  In retrospect, though, the novel’s pace is just fine.  The authors set up future events and give some information in these pages, and I can see that it will be important down the line.

Teenagers looking for something to replace Harry Potter can move on to the Shadow Grail series and find ample entertainment, as Conspiracies is one of the strongest “teen wizard” novels out there.  Adults should also enjoy the series, as it provides action and mystery in equal quantities.  I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book!

Also by Mercedes Lackey: Brightly Burning, Changes, Changing the World, Crossroads, Elemental Magic, Exile’s Honor, Exile’s Valor, Finding the Way, The Firebird, The Gates of Sleep, Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, Home from the Sea, Intrigues, Joust, Legacies (with Rosemary Edghill), Phoenix and Ashes, Redoubt, Sacrifices (with Rosemary Edghill), The Serpent’s Shadow, Steadfast, Take a Thief, Under the Vale, Unnatural Issue

Also by Rosemary Edghill: Legacies (with Mercedes Lackey), Sacrifices (with Mercedes Lackey)

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 8, 2011.

Series: Shadow Grail
ISBN: 9780765317629
Publisher: Tor Teen
Page Count: 342
Publication Date: July 5, 2011
Acquired: Provided by the publisher
Author Website–Mercedes Lackey
Author Website–Rosemary Edghill