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February 20, 2021

Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander dan Vilhjálmsson ~ a Review

by MK French

Reykjavik has industrialized magic, different kinds of creatures living alongside humans, psychoactive graffiti, and demonic familiars. There is also a rebellion, masked police, and dark magic within the city. Sæmundur is forbidden to study magic after getting thrown out of university. Garún is an artist desperate for justice and willing to do anything to achieve it. Together, they will change Reykjavik forever.

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Shadows of the Short Days
October 2020; Titan Books; 978-1789094497
ebook, print (464 pages); fantasy
We begin with an extensive pronunciation guide for the vowel sounds and letters present in the language that would be difficult for an English reader. There is also a glossary to help with some terms. After that, the story begins in force, following Garún around the city as she places magical graffiti around and longingly thinks of protests like any other social justice warrior would. She is blendingar: half human, half huldufólk, and neither side really trusts her with anything. Like many people who are biracial, there are microaggressions everywhere, and often she can only trust herself. Sæmundur is gifted and creative with magic, particularly galdr, which involves singing and particularly sound tones. (This likely will sound somewhat familiar if you read Norse mythology.) It’s partly because of this creativity that he gets expelled from the university. Failing classes, disorderly conduct, thaumaturgical narcotic use, and failing to rework his thesis rounds out his charges and tells us a lot about his character before he even gets a chance to defend himself to the university staff.

The beginning is slow and a little ponderous, really laying out the magic and the world these characters all live in. There are also lengthy asides delving into the backstories of the characters, which can sidestep some of the tension and slow down the momentum of the plot in later sections of the book. It’s still important to know, giving more insight into characters and the world they live in. The magic had invaded when an alternate dimension shattered, leaving remnants behind. Of course, survivors would try to create a home and a foothold, and of course, there would be crossbreeding with humans. Dangers abound in magic, not just in the casting, but in the rituals and components that could be used. This isn’t just rhymes and a magic wand kind of magic. This is blood, bone, memories, and highly contagious components that have the potential to be lethal. Some of the graffiti laid around the city can act as portals, and the search for knowledge leaves bodies in Sæmundur’s wake.

Garún is looking for equality for the huldufólk and blendingar, but those in power aren’t willing to give it up. Protests and interactions with police are dangerous, and those exposing the corruption are at risk of being blackballed from multiple areas of life. Thaumaturgic bullets and truncheons do considerable damage, and her graffiti kept protestors in place long after they normally would’ve left. At other points, the graffiti keeps people away from portals and locations she wants to keep secret. Magic threading through the city is twisted and used by any person that is capable of using it, and as the novel progresses there are more examples of the spirits and magic uses that are intense and bloody. The conflict between the Crown and the protesters intensifies as well, upping the stakes for Garún, Sæmundur and their friends..

Shadows of the Short Days didn’t go where I thought it would, and I was very surprised by the ending. The magic is deadly and dangerous, and using it doesn’t solve all of their problems. If anything, new ones are opened up. I almost feel bad for the characters, because there are so many forces manipulating them, and they aren’t aware of it. I feel incredibly sad for the future that will come after the close of this book, leaving me with a melancholy kind of book hangover.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. i have read more than one book that left me feeling that way. to me that shows how great the writing to capture my emotions
    sherry @ fundinmental