Thursday, April 5, 2012

Casting Shadows (J. Kelley Anderson)

Casting Shadows
J. Kelley Anderson
World Castle Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: When Edward Kelley's beloved sister Beth died, the last of his humanity seemed to die with her. Already embittered by the deaths of their missionary parents, his anger at the world and the heartless, hypocritical people infesting it consumed his very soul. How could the same loving God he once prayed to, the God his ill-fated sister embraced so wholeheartedly, allow such terrible things to happen - and how could the town he grew up in turn their backs on him when he needed them most?
Perhaps he should've been more skeptical when the mysterious envelope arrived on his doorstep, containing the details of a dark ritual to contact the entity known as Seth. Perhaps dabbling in powers beyond his comprehension was a bad idea, even deadly. But Edward's life wasn't worth living anymore as it was; if he could gain the power to take down the rest of suburban Hurst, Ohio with him, why the Hell not?
When Edward manages to summon a skeletal servant, doubts begin to plague him. Vincent makes him question his self-destructive hatred, offering him a glimpse of the human heart that still beats in his own chest. But Seth - and the mysterious stranger who started Edward on the black path - won't let go of their protege so easily... and some paths, once started down, cannot be lightly turned aside. Suddenly, the angry young man finds himself hunted by a powerful enemy, wielding forces he scarcely comprehends - all to save not only himself, but the very town he once vowed to see burned to the ground.

REVIEW: Placing ancient magicks in an unexpected contemporary setting may not be new territory, but Casting Shadows makes it feel fresh. Anderson weaves in threads of Russian folklore as he establishes a magic system that relies more on the caster's own subconscious than any teachable rituals; Edward can be given the tools, but not the knowledge to use them, and figuring out how his own powers work teaches him nothing of what other casters can and cannot do. Starting fairly quickly, the story moves at a good pace, establishing interesting characters and the unique magic system along the way without significantly holding up the plot. The troubled, angry protagonist finds himself transformed from a would-be villain to a would-be savior, but not without some setbacks and sidetracks as he tries to come to grips with his own emotions. His sidekicks - the skeletal servant Vincent and a jovial, if foul-mouthed, cop friend, plus a mysterious ally who might be more dangerous than his enemy - can only carry him so far; the path of magic is a path that can only be walked alone. Some distant religious undercurrents threatened to turn the story into a Christian tale of salvation, but - surprisingly - they stayed distant enough not to interfere with the plot, leaving many gray shades between Good and Evil and no clear-cut answers. The story lost a point mostly due to poor proofreading; many instances of wrong words and bad formatting in general grew distracting over the course of the book. (I read the Kindle version, so perhaps that explains the formatting problems, but it wouldn't explain errors such as "hear" instead of "here.") I also thought some elements wanted further exploration. Overall, though, I enjoyed Casting Shadows, and wouldn't mind revisiting the universe if Anderson chooses to continue it.

You might also enjoy:
Song for the Basilisk (Patricia McKillip) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review
Devil's Tower (Mark Sumner) - My Review
Dragon's Bait (Vivian Vande Velde) - My Review

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