One of the oldest genres, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, is the coming-of-age story. A tale concerned with the transitions between eras of life. Child to teenager, teenager to young adult, young adult to adult. People are constantly changing and, hopefully, maturing as they grow older, and we all have stories that exemplify these transitional spaces. Within storytelling, there are so many ways to handle this story, and it has been handled by nearly every author throughout history. Characters spend the arcs of their stories learning from their experiences, ending the story wiser than they began. There can be starts and stops across the journey, as we are all familiar with the concept that we have become our perfect selves, only for that notion to be proven false very quickly. Sometimes, there are even characters who believe to have found the correct path, only to require course correction from a trusted voice.
Cast in Secrets and Shadow is the latest book by author Andrea Robertson, and the follow up to her Loresmith series, which began in 2020 with Forged in Fire and Stars. This fantasy series is set in the land of Saetlund, a large and varied nation occupying its entire continent. There are mountainous and forested terrains, large plains, expansive deserts, and deep jungles. Years before the start of the series, Saetlund was easily conquered by the invading nation of Vokk, waging a war against the world. Saetlund was thought to be protected by the Loreknights, warriors wielding magical arms and armor and capable of defending against entire armies. However, the myth was proven to just be a myth and the Loreknights fell as just soldiers. That is, until we are introduced to Ara. A young blacksmith from a rural town, she is caught up in the fate of Saetlund when it is revealed that she is the new Loresmith, and sets out on a quest with a princess, a prince, a thief, and a summoner to recreate the Loreknights and take back their home.
Cast in Secrets and Shadow picks up immediately from the previous novel, so this is not the one to start with if you are new to the series. Where last Robertson left us, Prince Eamon, one of Ara’s travelling companions and their expert on the history, magic, and the study of the gods, betrayed the part to Vokk, believing that their defeat was inevitable and that the only way to save his sister, Crown Princess Nimhea, was to cut a deal. Without him, Ara, Nimhea, the thief Teth, and the summoner Lahvja must continue on their journey to face the gods’ challenges and forge the Loreknights weapons. The previous book ended with Ara crafting a magical bow, called Tears of the Traitor as it was forged using Eamon’s tears, and this book opens with her bestowing it upon Teth, the first new Loreknight. While the group works through their turbulent emotion, including feelings of betrayal contrasted with newfound love, they must travel the span of Saetlund to find the hidden sanctuaries of the gods while also attempting to prevent the Vokkans from discovering their whereabouts, a task made more difficult, but not impossible, by Eamon’s betrayal. While mostly a third-person story told through Ara’s point-of-view, the book also provides occasional interludes from Eamon’s, and others’, perspective in order to fill in the blanks on what is happening with the main villains of the story.
While Ara and her companions are faced with hardships throughout their quest, Robertson’s writing always makes it clear that they are in no danger of failing to complete the gods’ trials or recreate the Loreknights. While, in other books, this may serve to rob the story of momentum or interest, knowing that the plot requires the characters to succeed, here it makes room for what the book really seems to be about. The emotional journeys of the main characters really take center stage, and it could be argued that working through their emotions is the real plot of the novel. There are two main relationships in the plot, with the first to run into trouble being the burgeoning romance between Nimhea and Lahvja, which had become sort of official at the end of the previous book. However, this book opens with Nimhea’s anger directed at Lahvja, and Ara quickly learns that Lahvja knew that Eamon was up to something, but did not see it as her place to interfere with his turmoil. Consumed by anger and grief, Nimhea pushes her lover away, and it takes direct, honest intervention from Ara to force Nimhea to confront her emotional state and do something about it.
Ara herself is not left out of the emotional turmoil, however. The books make it very clear that she is slightly younger than the rest of the cast, and completely inexperienced in relationships. Which makes it so much harder for her when she finds herself attracted to thief and all-around scoundrel, Teth, the first Loreknight. Cast in Secrets and Shadow never dances around how these two characters feel about each other, and Teth proves to be more forward in his feelings. At first, the conflict in this new relationship is their personal hesitations, due to either inexperience or a belief that they are not worthy of the other, but it quickly becomes something more series after Nimhea and Lahvja rekindle their relationship. Roughly midway through the novel, Ara finds herself thinking only of Teth in a time of crisis, nearly resulting in tragedy. Her grief and regret forces her to confront the possibility that, as Loresmith, she cannot have a close relationship with one of her knights. There is a discussion concerning the balance between duty and love and, when told from Ara’s point of view, it all sounds very reasonable. However, the theme of this book seems to be that, sometimes, you need an outside opinion to see the truth of yourself, and Nimhea is given a chance to push Ara in the right direction.
Cast in Secrets and Shadow is not without a few criticisms, despite being a mostly enjoyable experience. The book very much feels like the second entry in a trilogy, following a basic structure that is familiar to fantasy readers. More main characters are introduced, the villains plan moves forward, and the heroes end the story on a down note. In order to build up for the next novel, this one needs to end with an escalation, not a resolution. However, just because a structure is often used does not make it necessarily bad. There is no such thing as a bad trope, just tropes used poorly. That being said, a major criticism is the disconnect between the main characters and the main villains. The heroes still have not met the main villain, just the faceless occupying soldiers, the two plots have not really intersected in any meaningful way. Ara receives a cryptic hint that the Vokkans are up to something more magical than just war, but the story ends before we learn more. Meanwhile, the occasional non-Ara chapters fill out the villains’ plot, but we do not spend much time there, and it does not impact Ara’s story during the novel. Thankfully, Cast in Secrets and Shadow does end in such a way that will force the two plots to finally join in the next novel.
Overall, Cast in Secrets and Shadow is a fun follow-up to Forged in Fire and Stars and will certainly keep readers of the series entertained. While the plot can sometimes feel slightly generic, despite the interesting worldbuilding and obstacles, the emotional core of the story is very well done. Lahvja’s heartbreak at Nimhea’s coldness is palpable, and we feel Ara’s frustration as she struggles to balance her love for Teth with her duty as the Loresmith. The characters are the main draw here, and Roberston has done a wonderful job in ensuring that they will reel readers in to experience the next novel.
Cast in Secrets and Shadow can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: Indeterminate!
Next on the List: Gearbreakers, by Zoe Hana Mikuta