Tonight’s reviews are for the first two books in Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s new “Shadow Grail” series, those being Legacies and Conspiracies. These are urban fantasies and feature as their main character Spirit White, an ordinary teen from Indiana.
Legacies starts off with a terrible accident, as Spirit’s whole family has been killed in a car accident. That same accident landed Spirit in the hospital; she endures extensive rehabilitation in order to be able to walk around. When she starts feeling a little better, at least physically, she finds that her parents had apparently left a will saying that Spirit should be sent to Oakhurst Academy in the event of their deaths — and as she’s never heard of Oakhurst Academy before, she doesn’t really like this. Spirit’s parents weren’t wealthy, and she wonders, once she sees the lavish school (which is in the middle of Montana, far from the maddening crowd), how she ended up there of all places. It turns out that Spirit is a Legacy — that Spirit’s parents had attended Oakhurst themselves, and never discussed it with her — and apparently there are many other Legacies out there in similar situations to Spirit’s own.
Despite these other folks in similar situations, Spirit immediately starts to flounder because Oakhurst isn’t just a preparatory school with an outstanding record; oh, no. It’s a magical school, and everyone who attends must have magic — so even though Spirit hasn’t any more magic than a flea as far as she knows, she’s quickly ensconced in the school. And she becomes friends with four others, all of whom have evinced magical talents Spirit herself doesn’t have: Muirin Shae (a chocoholic and caffeine addict; she’s wealthy and her stepmother doesn’t like her), Adelaide (“Addie”) Lake (a sweet girl who rarely raises her voice), Lachlann (“Loch”) Spears (he’s wealthy, he’s gay, and he quickly becomes Spirit’s BFF), and Burke Hallows (a jock, and Spirit’s eventual love interest). These disparate teens all know that something about Oakhurst Academy has set them off, and they aren’t buying what the director of the Academy, Doctor Ambrosius, is selling, which is the main reason they take to Spirit right away.
But of course there are other reasons, the primary one being that Spirit is grieving. She misses her parents. She misses her sister. She’s been thrown into demanding educational coursework, and even though Spirit herself doesn’t have a clue what her magical talent is (if she even has one), she knows magic is real by the talents her friends have — and accepts it rather placidly at first, as Spirit obviously has only so much energy and she’s using it all just to live.
But then, terrible things start happening; some students go missing. And in doing some research, Spirit and her friends find out this has been going on for many years — the Wild Hunt seems to be involved (this, by the way, is the only “typical” arcane referent here, and the only sidewise reference to the Court of King Arthur), and yet the teachers aren’t doing anything about it.
So Spirit and her friends decide to mix in . . . while I’ll stop my review for Legacies right there, know that the action-adventure was crisp and believable, and the “teen speak” makes sense. All the conventional trappings are there: this is present-day, so we have IPods, computers, instant messaging (IMs), e-books, you name it. And we have a believable, workable system of magic, plus some authority figures that don’t ring true and some real bad juju going on.
In other words, as book one was a success, next is book two, CONSPIRACIES. Here, Spirit White and her friends continue to fight against the Wild Hunt as more kids — and even some teachers — have been taken. No one is helping Spirit and her friends out openly, though there may be a teacher or two who is willing to help covertly as Spirit gets help from an unlikely and unusual source, one that is not named. And now, Doctor Ambrosius has asked the alumni to come back to Oakhurst Academy in order to help the students “fight the evil,” yet these alumni don’t necessarily seem all that much on the side of the “good and the right,” either . . . so what’s to do?
Once again, Spirit and her friends are able to keep themselves alive, and they learn a few more things. It turns out that at least some of them are Knights of the Grail — that is, they’ve been reincarnated, even though neither Spirit nor any of her friends know which person they might’ve been in the past. And there also are Shadow Knights out there — those who originally backed Mordred (Arthur’s son) against him — and this conflict has escalated because of a number of factors (all of which I’d have to blow the plot out of the water to explain, so apologies for stopping with that).
Here’s what’s going on with Spirit’s friends:
Muirin is courted by one of the alumni assiduously, to the point that it sets Spirit’s “antennae” off because Muirin is only sixteen, at most, and this guy courting Muirin has to be at least twenty-one. Spirit and Muirin become closer due to this and Muirin starts teaching Spirit about fashion (one of Muirin’s passions).
Loch is nearly outed by one of the alumni, which really worries Spirit as she’s not sure what to do about this. (Loch doesn’t seem overly concerned, except they are in Montana and Montana isn’t exactly known to be gay-friendly.) Loch had already determined that most of the alumni called in by Doctor Ambrosius were up to no good; that someone would be willing to “out” him for no reason just confirms his belief that these alumni must be fought.
Burke and Spirit become much closer, and their romantic relationship starts to deepen; unfortunately, his foster family (with whom he was very close) has been killed and he’s very upset. (This might be one reason he takes to Spirit, though, even though it’s more subtextual than out in the open. Spirit lost her whole family; Burke’s family was already dead, but he had a vibrant foster family he loved very much. Then they, too, were killed, reasons unknown, but signs definitely point to one of the returning alums.)
Addie realizes she has a Destiny — soon after, the other three of Spirit’s friends also realize this (though Spirit, herself, doesn’t seem to have one) — and that means either something very good is in her future, or very bad. In either sense, though, Addie won’t be able to avoid it, as a Destiny is something that absolutely must come to be even if you’re not exactly sure what it is. (This seems akin to clairvoyance without actually needing a clairvoyant around to muddy up the works.) Addie helps hold the disparate group together, as she definitely seems the most maternal; she’s gifted at organization, planning, and compassion.
So that’s where the Shadow Grail series stands thus far; we have five people who know they must fight against magical evil. They know reincarnation has something to do with it. They know that the Morte d’Arthur has more than a little to do with it, no matter how odd it seems. And yet, they’re teens, with typical teen problems and angst, with the additive problems of these chaotic alumni and the fact that two of the five are seriously grieving at the moment.
I definitely recommend this series; it is a must-buy, mostly because it gets the issues right that teens have to deal with, and partly because it gets the grief issues absolutely right. I’m looking forward to reading books three and four, and will be very interested to find out what Spirit’s magical talent is (as it’s still not been revealed), whether she and Burke will stay together, whether Loch will be “outed,” and whether the alumni truly are as evil as they seem.
B-plus, Legacies, only because of a slow start. (I honestly don’t know of a better way to get all the information in there than what Lackey and Edghill did, mind you; they didn’t “info-dump,” for which I thank them.) Nice action, intrigue, and hints of menace, along with getting the major “teen stuff” right.
A, Conspiracies. Great action is shown here, and many more hints of menace, with the ante being upped by the additional attacks on teachers at Oakhurst. When the alumni show up to “save the day,” but don’t end up saving much of anything, the plot deepens . . . excellent all the way ’round. (Hurry up and write the sequels, please!)