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Lethe may be a bigger city than Lark’s hometown, but Shadowlark feels small next to Skylark. Some of that is obviously intentional, Lark’s agoraphobia vs Oren’s claustrophobia. Alone in the wilderness vs joining a revolution hidden, (literally,) within city walls. Finding new friends vs losing them.
Unfortunately where Skylark kept me up late, guessing, and failing to guess, the twists, Shadowlark’s big reveal was pretty apparent early on. The first book is big with discovery and magical world building, while the second is much more tightly focused on one city, one fight. That’s certainly not a negative, but because survival in the wilderness was one of the things that made the first book unique, it’s disappointing that more of the Shadowlark doesn’t take place outside. After an early scene in the ruins above Lethe, which, admittedly, was excellent, it becomes a little generic.
I don’t mean to be critical, because I hope my score reflects a great enjoyment of the book. It just didn’t speak to me the way the first did and I was left wanting. But, we are introduced to some very interesting new characters, include queer characters, which always thrills me in YA fantasy. (Or adult fantasy. Or sci-fi. Or contemporary...) The aforementioned scene in the ruins is tense and emotional, and was a real standout for me. Lethe is a hybrid of the city within the Wall and the Iron Forest, giving us our first good look at how magic and technology can coexist. There’s a lot of interest and to like.
Lastly, I appreciate how grey everything has become. Shadowlark asks a lot of questions about the nature of humanity and what evil is. It’s easy to look at cannibalistic shadows and to draw a line, but when they’re not as in-human as you thought? What then? And what expense would you spare for someone you love?
It’s just a shame it came after one of my favorite books of 2013 and has to set the stage for what comes next. Shadowlark may suffer from middle book syndrome, but the conclusion to the Skylark Trilogy remains at the top of my to-be-read list.