Half Sick of Shadows

Ace/Berkley/. Jul. 2021. 448p. Tr $27. ISBN 9780593200513.
Sebastian’s poignant retelling of the Arthurian legend is narrated by Elaine, Lady of Shalott. Elaine—who comes from a long line of oracles—has struggled since childhood to manage the emotional fallout of the foresight afforded by her visions, and feels isolated within a society where magic is banned. When she arrives in Avalon at age 13, she immediately finds a home with a group of new friends including Morgana, Guinevere, half-fey Lancelot, and royal heir Arthur. The tight-knit group of friends share a strong connection throughout their teens but find their bond fraying when Arthur’s father dies and they must relocate to Camelot to assure his ascension to the throne via a series of quests. Through a blend of flashbacks, present-tense narration, and visions of the future, Elaine relates the group’s political machinations and high-stakes adventures. Although the novel contains familiar elements of Arthurian myth, Elaine’s lyrical narration lends a wistful, contemplative tone to the story. The novel’s exploration of themes such as seeking autonomy, managing change in adolescent friendships, and facing adult responsibility will likely resonate with older teens. Characters have a diverse range of skin tones and hair colors; cultural prejudice exists between various factions of the kingdom and is openly discussed and challenged. An author’s note alerts readers to themes of mental illness and suicide.
VERDICT Sebastian’s adult debut is highly recommended for teens who enjoyed Naomi Novik’s fairy-tale retellings and Kiersten White’s “Camelot Rising” series.

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