Author: Megan Spooner
Length: 327 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★
In this sequel to Skylark, Lark Ainsley continues searching for her brother Basil in hopes of understanding not only his fate but her own identity as well. Soon, however, she falls into the clutches of men who serve Prometheus, the leader of an underground city called Lethe. There, Renewables are feared and forced into slavery to keep the city and its people alive and safe from the shadows of the wold above. After escaping their clutches, Lark works with the resistance, where she realizes that her brother may have come here, too, and fallen victim to Prometheus as well. She is determined to escape–but not before she frees the captive Renewables and confronts Prometheus to end his reign of terror for good.
I have a real problem when it comes to continuing series. Last year, I started a bunch of series (maybe eight or nine), made progress on just two or three, and finished reading only one. Some I have no intention of finishing because the first book just wasn’t good enough, but…it’s still a problem.
I liked the first book in this series, Skylark, when I read it last January, but coming back to it almost a full year later, my memory of the finer details was a bit fuzzy. Spooner doesn’t do much to get readers up to speed. Rather, she throws them into the middle of things and hopes for the best. That decision left me stumbling for the first few chapters, but I did eventually find my footing.
Sadly, Shadowlark lacks its predecessor’s charm. In that one, Spooner wove together both beautiful and terrifying imagery to create an effective and sometimes moving post-apocalyptic adventure. The heroine herself–Lark–was nonetheless somewhat wanting in that installment, and she certainly is here. As I said then, she’s no Katniss Everdeen. She seems to spend most of her time in this one wandering around feeling sorry for herself instead of actually doing anything, which is never endearing. She also frets a lot about whether or not she’s a good or bad person. Frankly, I don’t care if she’s a monster. That’s fine with me! Just stop whining about it, Lark–take action! And not only is Lark just as Special as she was in the first book, there’s also an unfortunate element of Chosen One syndrome at play here.
While readers experienced the sky and wide-open natural spaces for the first time alongside Lark (born in a domed city with a mechanical sun) in Skylark, the majority of Shadowlark is set underground. It reminded me very strongly of the first half of Mockingjay–not only because of the setting—which was my least-favorite of the Hunger Games series.
The cast becomes bloated; it’s stuffed to the brim full of characters that I never really cared about. None of them are particularly memorable. Fortunately, there are generous helpings of my favorite two characters from the first book: Lark’s monstrous/wild boy traveling companion and budding love interest Oren, and her little mechanical tracker-turned-ally, Nix, a machine with a delightfully wicked sense of humor.
And as for the plot, I saw the big plot twist coming. In fact, the night before I read it, I thought, “I bet [X] is actually [Y].” And unfortunately I was exactly right. It didn’t ruin the story, but I was disappointed that I could guess so far in advance.
Nothing in this book is flat-out bad. It contains a few stunning images, some humor, plenty of magic, and a good deal of action, just like the first one. But it suffers from Middle Book Syndrome. That Spooner doesn’t do a lot of world-building in this second volume of her trilogy doesn’t help, either. There are dozens of questions left unanswered from the first book, because the only world explored here is the underground city in which Lark finds herself trapped. What fate really befell humanity? Why do a meager few humans now live in cities while the rest have mutated into “shadow” monsters? Was it, as the people of Lethe believe, a “cataclysm” to be blamed on the Renewable population? Was it nuclear war? Sadly, there are virtually no answers to be found in Shadowlark.
Still, I’m invested enough in the world and the characters (yes, even the often disappointing and annoying Lark) to read the last book in hopes of getting answers to those questions. And as I said in my review of the last book, I’m also still hoping to get more of Lark and Oren’s dark romance, because I love it. Spooner did at least give me another taste of it–one that, like last time, only left me wanting more:
“I’m a monster,” he said gently, firmly.
“So am I.” It came out in a whisper.
His mouth twitched again in that little, helpless, exhaling half of a laugh. Then, as if he couldn’t stand it anymore, his mouth was on mine, and for the first time it was real, normal. He still had his darkness and I still had mine, and we were going to have to find a way to deal with them both. But for now it was just him and me, and our monsters would have to wait.
Oh, yeah. That’s what I signed up for.
P.S.: The cover of Skylark was absolutely stunning. So what the heck is going on with this one?!