ARC Review: Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

The Lady of Shalott reclaims her story in this bold feminist reimagining of the Arthurian myth from the New York Times bestselling author of Ash Princess. 

CW: suicide, bullying, descriptions of drowning

Though I’ve only read the author’s debut Ash Princess before and never managed to continue the trilogy, she is fun to follow on Twitter and I’ve been very excited for this book since it’s announcement. But now I’m pretty unsure of my feelings after finishing it.

I know Arthurian legends are very famous and probably familiar to most western readers from a young age. But I didn’t grow up knowing them, and my only knowledge is pretty limited to the show Merlin and the books The Mists of Avalon, which I encountered less than a decade ago, both of which I don’t remember much of. So I’m not exactly attached to the original mythos and I don’t have the usual complaints like other reviewers, that it diverges too much from the original.

My problem is mostly with the plot itself. I frankly didn’t find the non linear timeline structure of the story too difficult, and it was actually interesting to read the “future” chapters and imagine all the various possibilities. It was just that all of the past chapters felt very detached, so when our group of ensemble characters in the present timeline pledge undying loyalty to each other and tell that they would do anything to make Arthur king, I couldn’t find it emotionally engaging because I couldn’t understand why they were actually so close and loyal to each other.

The characters themselves are interesting, I especially loved Elaine because she is kind of a tragic figure, unable live her life properly as she is always thinking about future possibilities and betrayals and how to change them. I really wanted her to have a life where she got what she wanted. Morgana is another character I loved because she is fierce and impulsive, but always remains true to herself. I think I would enjoyed the book more if more of these two women’s dynamic was explored. Gwen is a warrior who gets to make difficult decisions for the sake of her love and her people, but I didn’t feel much of anything towards her. Even the romance between Lancelot and Elaine, or Gwen and Arthur were just peripheral subplots that didn’t have much impact. Arthur himself wasn’t much of a major figure in this book, but I knew that going in because the author herself mentioned it many times, so it didn’t bother me much.

To be honest, I don’t even know where I’m going with this review. It was an okay story, but I could never understand what the goal or ending we were going towards, and I’m not sure if I’m satisfied with the ending, though it was an interesting surprise. I probably could have loved this more if I could’ve felt connected to the characters, but alas that didn’t happen. I don’t know to whom I can recommend this book, but definitely not to those who are very attached to the Arthurian legends and would be unhappy with such a drastically different retelling.

PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Ace for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

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    1. Ya I can probably understand the feeling… but I’m opposite when it comes to the mythologies I grew up on.. I still seek out their retellings 😊😊

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