Magical world? Check. Arthurian legend? Check. Female viewpoint? Check. A lot of boxes have been checked off by Laura Sebastian’s Half Sick Of Shadows. Elaine Astolat, Lady of Shalott, was born with the ability to see the future — or rather, futures. Through weaving at her loom, Elaine must find a way to come to terms with the many different paths that lay ahead of herself and her legendary friends, Morgana, Lancelot, Arthur, and Gwen. I’ve always been a sucker for Arthurian legends, so I jumped at the opportunity to read this adult debut of Laura Sebastian, and it did not disappoint.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
In addition to loving Arthurian legends, I have a soft spot for retellings of classic tales from a distinctly feminist point of view — as most of these legends, no matter the culture, are often male-centric with women filling the roles of particular caricatures, with no real substance behind them. Laura Sebastian’s Half Sick of Shadows does a great job of turning these legends on their head and giving important attention to the lives of these legendary women.
Something I really enjoyed about Laura Sebastian’s writing was the way she made these stories come alive in a new way. Most people know at least the basics of the story of King Arthur — his knights, the betrayal by his lover and best friend, but she utilizes the nature of Elaine’s Sight to take a familiar tale and still have you questioning how it will end. As a part of what Elaine Sees, there are multiple different versions of future events each with a multitude of possible endings, both good and bad. So as a reader, you are unsure of how things will turn out no matter how much you know about King Arthur. As with the Arthurian legends themselves, there are already so many iterations it seems that Laura Sebastian is paying homage to that as well. Even smaller details, such as the different versions of the villain’s name as Morgana, Morgan, or Morgause, are rectified in Half Sick of Shadows as twin sisters, Morgana and Morguase.
Characters, the Sight, and the Ending
In addition to Elaine’s Sight creating an interesting avenue of the unknown for a reader knowledgeable in Arthurian legends, it also is a very well-used narrative technique. Within chapters, you will be thrust into the past or one of the possible futures with no real warning. At first, it is jarring as a reader, but I think that is the point. Elaine from a young age has had to endure the challenges on her mentally and physically from her visions. She does not necessarily have control over when these appear and what they might tell her. As a reader, you are getting just a piece of that disjointedness that Elaine must live within her daily life.
The world, which is already a rich world with hundreds of years of background material, gains new vitality through Half Sick of Shadows. Within her book, Laura Sebastian spends more attention on the mystical aspects of the legends of Camelot and Avalon, specifically, and even adding new depth to the Arthurian legend’s world. We learn more about the fey-people; the relationship of Albion with other territories; the heritage and background of characters like Lancelot and Gwen; and other characters often only referenced, such as the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, even Elaine herself. I enjoyed reading these new additions to freshen up this world.
One aspect that left me hanging was the ending, which is ironic considering the idea of multiple futures. I guess I’m just unsure of what actually happened in the end. Certain parts are clear, but there are others that seem not entirely answered or fleshed out. Perhaps I just need to go back and reread the last couple of chapters to get that clarity and closure. In addition, it felt slightly rushed in the end considering the pace of most of the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Half Sick of Shadows and Laura Sebastian’s new feminist take on some of the Arthurian legends and would easily recommend this to anyone who loves a unique or previously unexplored point of view of a traditional legend.