- Shadow Magic (1982)
- Daughter of Witches (1983)
- The Harp of Imach Thyssel (1985)
- Caught in Crystal (1987)
- The Raven Ring (1994)
Although I haven’t reviewed them on this blog, Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are serious favorites of mine. They’re snarky, fun, and involve lots of dragons and cats – what’s not to love?? I also have a great fondness for the Cecily & Kate series that she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and thoroughly enjoyed her Frontier Spirit series as well. All that to say, I’ve been meaning to read the Lyra books for quite sometime. As you can see, she wrote additions to the series over a long span of time, and there were plenty of books in between these, including the fourth Enchanted Forest book (Talking to Dragons), which was published several years before she wrote the first three (chronologically).
Shadow Magic is Wrede’s first book, and in the introduction to the Kindle edition that I had, Wrede talks about how she didn’t really know what she was doing when she wrote it, but someone bought it, which she found pretty exciting. Later, she was scared to edit it too much, since the editor had purchased what she’d written after all. Eventually, though, she did go through and eliminate some of the wordiness of her original edition, especially in the first few chapters of the story. The introduction actually takes the reader through that first chapter paragraph by paragraph, showing what she changed and why, which was interesting, although a bit confusing as an introduction! At any rate, while I was hoping to enjoy these books, I knew that they were mostly from earlier in her career, so I wasn’t sure if they were going to be as strong as her later books that I have enjoyed so much.
All in all, I think my expectations were about right on. I definitely did enjoy these books, but they lacked a lot of the warmth and humor that are what make her later books so enjoyable. The mechanics of good stories are there: interesting world building, likable characters, engaging plot – but they are, for the most part, fairly serious stories without a lot of lightheartedness. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not my personal preference.
The Lyra books aren’t so much a series as they are a set of stories that take place in the same world. As such, I could have really, really used a map. Lyra is the whole world/continent, and there are multiple countries within it. The books take place at different points in history and in different countries around Lyra. A map and a timeline would have really improved my enjoyment of these stories, as I am someone who likes to have the big picture.
The stories themselves weren’t stunning, but were solid. Shadow Magic isn’t at all bad for a debut book – it’s a bit choppy, but the premise is well-developed, even if the love story isn’t. Daughter of Witches was similar in technique, although the story was quite different. This was when I first began wishing that I had a map, as there was no clear tie-in or connection between this story and Shadow Magic except for a few vague references.
The book showed a definite uptick in quality during The Harp of Imach Thyssel. The story was much better focused, and consequently everything felt more driven. While I was a bit ambivalent towards picking up the first two books when I wasn’t reading them, I found myself racing through The Harp.
Caught in Crystal was a story that could have been greatly improved by a dose of Wrede’s humor. The story itself is quite good, and I really like the main character who, unlike most fantasy heroines, is a 36-year-old widowed mother of two who has been retired from active service for over fifteen years. However, the story was just so serious all the time. It’s hard for me to connect with characters who never seem to smile.
The Raven Ring was my favorite of the batch, probably because it had some of the humor that was lacking in the earlier books. The story is a bit more madcap as the main character dashes around the city trying to avoid getting knocked off, and it’s overall just a more enjoyable read. It definitely could be read as a stand-alone, although you won’t get the full impact of the terror of the Shadow Born, or all the references to the other non-human races.
While I enjoyed this series and am glad to have read it, The Raven Ring is the only one I see myself rereading. 3.5* for the series as a whole, and 4* for the last two.
Also, Shadow Magic is read #6 for #20BooksofSummer!