The Outstretched Shadow (Obsidian, #1)

The Outstretched Shadow (Obsidian, #1) - Mercedes Lackey,  James Mallory I seem to differ from other reviewers in that I found the first part of this book to be the most interesting. The authors display the City and its culture for us, rebellious hero Kellen learns about Wild Magic, etc. After a while, the discovery slows, and the story becomes formulaic. Sadly, that only continues as the book progresses.

I found The Outstretched Shadow to be a readable YA fantasy, but it didn't go beyond that. The characters were pleasant, but not intriguing - they pretty much all fell into familiar categories. The story was more problematic, suffering from two key weaknesses. First, it was not original. That need not be a fatal flaw, but it's not helpful. Everything we see in this book, we've pretty much seen before, and the authors didn't even seem to try very hard to do anything new. Second, and more important, the story and plotting are a little too free and easy. Everything happens as it must to suit the plot, and there are virtually no impediments to progress. The descriptions are good (if they run long), but the events are entirely unsurprising. You know where this book is going halfway through, and then it's just a long, mildly diverting plod to get there.

The various 'continuity flaws' don't help. Early one, a unicorn is reluctant to even come near a human female non-virgin. Later, he travels in closed company with an elven male non-virgin without any apparent discomfort. In fact, unicorns seem quite happy living in/near an elven city, which presumably has a fair percentage of non-virgins. And it's not that elven non-virgins don't trouble them, as we learn later. So maybe it's just women... I prefer to think the authors were just sloppy.

Similarly sloppy - Idalia the Wild Mage uses keystones that seem usually to be rounded river stones easily held in one hand. I remember that when they were introduced, I thought they should be strung on a necklace. The entire second half of the book centers on a keystone wrapped in thin cloth that must be carried through danger and difficulty. The hero is constantly concerned about its fragility. Yet when he unwraps it, lo and behold, it's the size of a small melon, and it's a complicated, pointed cylinder. Yet somehow we and the hero never noticed the difference.

Finally, the ending - climactic as it is - makes virtually no sense. The Endarkened have set up this spell that at first seems an afterthought, then is seen as very complex. It's intensely guarded, but only by creatures that wait until everyone's in position before attacking. And of course, despite the Endarkened's vast power, they don't do much to avoid a teenaged boy ruining their centuries-long plans. Why his actions should have that effect is unclear - nor why the Endarkened saw a drought of elven-land as the linch-pin to their plot to begin with. But I came away with the feeling that the Endarkened are not so much evil as stupid.

I intended to give this 3 stars (meaning 2.5), but as I've thought about it, I realize I come down on the other side - 2 stars (for 2.5).

Overall, harmless YA epic fantasy, but it's hard to suspend your disbelief long enough to really enjoy it. I can't recommend this when there are many better stories out there.