Reviews: The Shadowhand Covenant

The Shadowhand Covenant by Brian Farrey (HarperCollins, expected publication October 2013)

Note:  An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

Ah the lure and the dread of the sequel!  Unlike a first book in a series that’s a complete unknown where the author gets to introduce his or her characters and setting and delight the reader with something new, a second book starts with  a base of readers who already know the characters and have all sorts of ideas, expectations and hopes for the next book.  As a reader, loving a first book in a series makes it tough to approach the second book without some reluctance simply because my expectations have been raised very high indeed–and that can make it a challenge to read the book based on its own merit.  On the other hand, there’s enough of a fan girl in me that I admit I “squee’d” when this advanced copy landed in my lap.  And I have to admit I unceremoniously shoved aside my reading pile and read this in the course of one afternoon.

If you haven’t read Brian Farrey’s The Vengekeep Prophecies (2012), I’d recommend you take the time and enjoyment to do so–it’s a marvelous fantasy adventure.  But if you’re interested in approaching Mr. Farrey’s second book without reading the first, I suspect it is possible to do so.  The author does an excellent job of introducing our characters and setting up the plot so that while new readers gain the back story and details necessary to have the plot make sense,  fans aren’t bogged down in excess recap.  Instead we’re launched straight into another adventure!

When we last left Jaxter Grimjinx, our budding scholar had landed an only dream-of position studying with the Dowager.  But Jaxter’s new life proves to be more difficult than he expected, and more frustrating as well.  But if he thinks life is difficult now–it’s about to step up the challenges!  Mysterious thefts and accusations throughout the five kingdoms have people on edge, and the blame falling squarely on the Sarosan people (individuals who refuse to use magic).  Jaxter thinks he’s well enough out of it all, until his family is summoned by the mysterious Shadowhands.  The Shadowhands are among the most elite and secret mast thieves in the kingdoms . . .only now they’re going missing.  Trouble is brewing and it is going to send Jaxter on a wild adventure to uncover the true culprit at the heart of the crimes.  Stuck working with an old friend he’d rather never see again, it’s going to be quite a ride.

I will say this for Mr. Farrey, he sure know how to kick off a story in style.  And while his setting and creatures are delightfully different from the usual pseudo medieval fantasy, it is his characters that really pack a punch.  Who couldn’t love the Grimjinx family with their irresistible charm and inability to stop themselves from pulling a good con? Jaxter makes an extraordinarily good narrator for our story, and I never felt as though the author had to struggle to engineer the first person perspective effectively (and when an author makes things look easy, the likelihood is they worked hard  to make it appear so.)  Without the vivid characters and Jaxter’s narration, this fantasy could have easily fallen into the trap of feeling overly stuffy and epic.  With those things added in, the story is incredibly readable  and should be a blast for even non-fantasy fans to pick up.  I love that Mr. Farrey manages to create characters that you can love and still recognize their flaws and in many cases, their lack of regard for the law.

It’s an adventurous plot that pits Jaxter against monsters,  nature and his own emotional wounds at times.  Though some of the foreshadowing had me guessing who the culprits were well before we arrived at the revelations, I suspect it might not be as obvious to a middle grade audience..   I got to admit, though this book doesn’t quite pull off the smoothness  of the  first book, it’s still a good romp, with lots of danger, adventure and cleverness thrown in but there were times when I felt the plot could have been a bit tighter.  This book does suffer slightly from being a “second book” .   By the end of the story, it’s clear there’s a larger game at stake, one we were unaware of  in The Vengekeep Prophecies,  but now is something  obvious to both reader and protagonist.   However, given my delight in having a second book to read, I can hardly count that as a bad thing.  Just where the  first book could be read as a stand-alone, this one relies a little more on being part of the larger story.

There were a few moments when things worked out a little too neatly–like  Jaxter’s handy knowledge about vessepedes– but overall it is a very good continuation from what came before, and readers who loved the first book will likely embrace this one with similar enthusiasm and enjoyment.   I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing what the author has in store for the next book in this series!

This is solid fantasy fiction for tween reader looking for something new in magical world stories, but not yet ready for more mature topics in young adult fiction.

Publisher: HarperCollins

Expected Publication Date:October  2013   

ISBN13:    9780062049339

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on August 8, 2013, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Glad to know I can keep looking forward to this one!

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