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Book Review: Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

Genre: Parallel Worlds, Celtic Fantasy, Young Adult
ISBN: 1905548893
ISBN-13: 9781905548897
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pub. Date: July 2008
Author Website
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This Celtic mythology based fantasy is a love offering from a father to his son. John Lenahan wanted both to challenge himself, and to have something to read aloud to his son. With those as his intentions, what better thing to do than to turn the novel into an audiobook? So that is exactly what this professional comedian and magician did, with great results.

Shadowmagic is about an 18-year old named Connor and his father Oisin. When strange human beings suddenly appear in their yard, attempting to kill poor Connor, he finds that the life he had lived was not what he thought it was. He is in fact the son of the one-handed prince, and a prophecy foretold that he would one day die in order to save the Land, Tir nan Og. A series of misadventures, comedic exploits, and familial alliance and re-alliances then ensue.

Lenahan has a flair for jokes, and although he perhaps belabors the knocked-unconscious-when-will-this-stop gag once to often, the mix and match slapstick and witticisms make this story quite funny.

Along with the comedy, Lenahan writes an entertaining quest novel. Connor moves from out of his depth to hero of the hour in the way we expect. I think this novel would be popular with the kids it was written for, but at the same time is entertaining for adults. Part Narnia, part Shrek, I was surprised by how entertaining this free podcast was.

Lenahan called on some friends to write music to add to the Celtic flair. Lughnasa is a Celtic band whose opening music was always a welcome sound to hear. Lenahan, as a professional talker has trained his voice for allowing his voice to work with the words, rather than against them. His cadence is perfect speeding up at fight scenes and slowing down for the more serious discussions about Connor’s history and his family reunions. I could sense that he was enjoying reading the story, almost as much as enjoyed hearing it. That brought back happy memories of my own father reading The Hobbit to me, and I imagined Lenahan’s own son enjoying it as I had when my own father read to me.

He also keeps the chapters relatively short, Each one is between 7 to 15 minutes long, and so provided something entertaining to listen to as I mowed my yard. In fact, I was almost disappointed that I only mowed once a week, and actually sought more opportunities to work outside so I could listen to Shadowmagic. (I know that is illogical, as I could have listened at any time, but it seemed somehow right to be outside when Lenahan spoke of talking trees and the beauty of Tir nan Og.)

Lenahan does have some problems in his narrative. He essentially repeats several plot events, with different particulars. Though this is something he makes light of later in a joke, at the time it gets rather annoying in its repetitiousness. Additionally, I was not always clear on the relationship between magic and shadowmagic, and why shadowmagic was considered a bad thing. I also was not sure why the villain of the story wanted to both destroy and rule the land. Usually one or the other is the motivation for a villain, but in this case we have a mix, and I was left confused.

Readers and listeners should also note that the story, while it ends completely, is left open for sequels. Personally, I think I would like to listen to those, perhaps even more than read them, if Lenahan’s voice is behind them. I recommend Shadowmagic in its audio format as an excellent way to while away time stuck in traffic or on long road trips. Though I haven’t read the prose form, I’m sure that is great too. But the audio format is best. Shadowmagic is the very first audiobook I have ever listened to in full (besides Bill Bryson’s works), and the occasional dramatization. Before, I had always disliked what I perceived as the monotone presentation of books read by only one voice. That says something about Shadowmagic’s ability to entertain, when even this stodgy paper and ink reader would rather listen than read.

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