Over the years, fantasy has splintered into various sub-genres, urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal, and medieval. Stories involving magically enabled American who enters a magical fantasy world to save the day are abundant, some very good, others less so. Game of Shadows by Erika Lewis is a fun read that hits all of the high notes, while maintaining some restraint in the young hero's use of magic and showing a learning curve with respect to other medieval skills While we as readers want to see magic, it can overwhelm a story. Indeed, immediate super powers in all things medieval also detracts. Unless a god endows a character with super powers, it can be hard to believe that a teen from California ends up in magical land and immediately can kill with a sword against trained warriors. Thankfully Lewis has a refined pen. Despite horse riding lessons in Los Angeles, Ethan is not automatically a great horseman. Her young hero wins the day with courage, smarts and using his nascent magical skills of talking to ghosts. He also gets help from others. It's a winning combination.
Ethan Makkai lives in California, a freshman in high school, believes his mother Caitrionai is overprotective. He knows that his ability to talk to ghosts is unusual but wants to be his own person. On his birthday, he escapes his tight apartment only to be attacked by the school bully, who he bests, but his triumph is short-lived, as magical invaders from Tara, Caitrionai homeland, attack him on the streets and kidnap her His savior, a Captain Bartlett takes him back to Tara.
Lewis shows a deft hand with world building. Tara is composed of eight lands and multiple different inhabitants. When Ethan arrives in Landover, his ancestral realm, he is eager to go after his mother, but General Niles, the war leader is reluctant to let him go. Ethan is the heir and must present himself to the other kings to prove his power.
Ethan cannot wait and escapes with Lily Niles and his cousin Christian to find his mother, who is being held by the Ravens, shape shifters, who have aligned with the evil imprisoned sorcerer Sawney Bean. It seems that Bean believes he can use Caitrionai to free himself from his prison and to power a spell of potent evil. Ethan later teams up with Runyun Cooper, his unknown father, who knows the way to Sawney Bean's prison.
But on the way the questers have to escape the Glatisant, a huge monstrous beast, convince some bothersome wood sprites to let them go, escape from the muscular Fomorian king and elude the wild milcai. There is little down time in this engaging novel. As the story progresses, we see Lily form a bond with Ethan that makes her magic grow more powerful, and Ethan learns to use his ability to talk to ghosts. But Ethan also grows up.
Sawney Bean has powerful magic at his call and an army of the undead to fight for him. Can Ethan defeat him. In the coming confrontation with Sawney Bean, a traitor will be revealed and Ethan will have to put on the line his ability to talk to ghosts to prove he is the rightful heir. This young adult novel packed in enough adventure and action to entice this reader. Join the quest.