True to its nature of magical cage fights, Katharyn Blair’s The Beckoning Shadow doesn’t pull any punches, delivering a breathtakingly wild and tempestuous debut.
In a society of Oddities and Baselines— those magically endowed and those magically devoid—Vesper Montgomery cages a dangerous power, “a vine of temptation, a vice of terrible consequences”—the ability to conjure people’s worst fears. Yet, power can only be repressed for so long, and the repercussions are devastating. A home left in cinders and her sister in an ambulance, Vesper flees, in search of a quiet life where harm can never come to those she loves. But when she inadvertently exposes her power to a Baseline, she’s thrust fully into the Oddity world, teeming with magic and an otherworldly opportunity: the Tournament of the Unraveling. With its lofty monetary prize and, more importantly, a chance to right her past, Vesper enters the competition, faced with opponents more magically-seasoned than her. Yet, the closer she gets with her fellow Oddities, the more she realizes there are foes greater than those she has in the ring.
Quite simply, The Beckoning Shadow is a masterpiece I could not put down, nor did I want to. With its break-neck pacing, it reels you into Vesper’s story with little preamble. From then on, every facet of this book tantalizes you to read just one more page, one more chapter, until you find yourself up reading into the early hours. Though young adult fiction is abundant with magic-wielding teens, Blair infuses her debut with an imagination that ushers the story into such a unique territory, burrowing deeper than the hackneyed cliches. Rather, she adds so many layers to both the story itself and her characters, carefully peeling back each one to expose what lies at the heart of the plot, the heart of each character.
Through Vesper’s power, Blair offers a glimpse at each character through a much sharper and more personal lens. As Vesper trains to harness her power, practicing with her companions, she’s able to sift through their fears, bear witness to their life-altering moments. Not only is this backstory effortlessly integrated, but it also sculpts these characters beyond a superficial, sparsely-developed level. Whether to advance the plot, further mold a character, or provide a bit of comic relief, each fear she coaxes out contributes something significant. And of course, the same can be said for Vesper’s as well.
From her first-person perspective, it’s evident Vesper is a maelstrom of fear, both other people’s and her own. Avoidant of her power, haunted by her mistakes–her fears are the keystone in this character-driven story. And her turmoil is painfully poignant, heartrendingly realistic. I had to set the book down at one point because I could no longer read the words through my tears. Indubitably, Blair has a knack for emotive storytelling.
A must-read for all book lovers, The Beckoning Shadow is an absolute knockout.