Conspiracies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill – review

By on December 14, 2011

Conspiracies is the second entry in Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s Shadow Grail series.  The book takes place in the elite Oakhurst Academy boarding school, a highly competitive environment where almost all of the students have been orphaned and all of them are being taught magic.  The school keeps a tight rein on its students. They have no access to the Internet, they have restricted access to music and movies, and the rules are abundant.  It’s made clear on a daily basis that all of the Oakhurst students are expected to be high achievers and are supposed to flourish in the real world after graduation.

Spirit White and her friends Addie, Muirin, Loch, and Burke defeated the Wild Hunt in the previous book.  In this volume, which begins just days after that incident, Spirit is convinced that their problems are far from over.  While they successfully vanquished the immediate threat, many questions still remain.  They don’t know who summoned the Wild Hunt or for what purpose, nor are they certain that the Hunt was defeated for good.  Even worse, Spirit and her friends don’t have any idea which adults in their midst are trustworthy and which are part of the conspiracy behind all of the students disappearing.

Just when Spirit is starting to believe that her friends are correct and she’s manufacturing drama to make herself feel important, a different sort of attack happens during a school dance.  She and her group of friends once again start investigating what is happening, hoping to find answers in time to save their fellow students.  Further complicating the issue is the fact that Spirit herself seems to be the only student in the entire academy who has not manifested any magic yet.  She is told, repeatedly, that her power is there, lying dormant, though no one seems to know how to awaken it.

After the first attack, alumni from Oakhurst return to the school, including Mark Rider, a man who made his fortune developing one of the hottest video games to be released in years.  Rider relocates his entire corporation to Oakhurst and begins providing additional securtity for the school.  Rather than being reassured Spirit and her friends begin to realize that the conspiracy reaches far deeper than they ever suspected and the entire student body is in incredible danger.

One of my favorite things about Mercedes Lackey is her characterizations.  Whenever I pick up a book that she’s written I count on discovering characters that I like and that I care about by the time the book is finished.  When she writes kids or teenagers, she never seems to resort to using stereotypes or making them feel completely unrelatable.  So, I’m not exactly sure what happened with this book.  With the first book, Legacies, I really liked the characters. They felt like strong, capable, practical characters which made their decision to investigate and try to solve the mysteries of Oakhurst believable and compelling.

This volume spends what feels like an inordinate amount of time on Spirit’s constant navel-gazing.  She’s so full of angst and self doubt that it seems like a miracle when she finally pulls herself together enough to get anything done. It absolutely feels like, on every other page, Spirit is once again trying to figure out if she’s really just trying to insist that there’s still a problem at Oakhurst because she’s selfish and wants to be the center of attention.  Muirin seems to be far more bratty and narcissitic in this one, as well.  She wasn’t exactly the nicest kid in the first book, but she redeemed herself well on a consistent basis, so the reader could clearly understand why Spirit, Burke, Addie, and Loch all wanted to remain her friends.  The rest of the core group of friends are actually still quite likable.  Addie is a quieter, subtler young woman than her friends; she’s practical and reasonable and often seems to be an effective foil to her friends’ impulsiveness.  Burke is a jock, but he isn’t a typical athlete, he does present himself to be self-confident and it isn’t a thin veneer, but he is also unafraid to admit that he is not perfect.  His character goes through the most evolution during this book, and seeing how the events at Oakhurst affect him is heartbreaking.  Readers also find out more about Loch’s story.  Loch seems to be easy-going and calm even in the most trying circumstances.  He’s far more mature than he should be at his age, and when the reasons for that are revealed, it makes perfect sense.

When I think of Rosemary Edghill’s work, I enjoy her consistency in writing systems of magic and the strength of her action sequences.  Neither of those things are lacking, here.  The way that magic works for Oakhurst students is created well, with standard schools based on elements, with specific talents and strengths that make perfect sense with each school of magic.  The fight scenes are very well-written.  They flow easily and make great sense to the reader.  It’s easy to keep track of the sequence of events and the action taking place.  The fighting all works logically, without a reader needing to try to figure out where weapons materialized from or how the participants could have possibly figured out how to make the moves that they are making.

Conspiracies is seamlessly written in terms of the actual collaboration.  If I were challenged to separate the sections that Lackey wrote from the sections that Edghill wrote, I wouldn’t be able to do it, no matter how hard I tried.  I base my critiques of the characterization and the action on what I know of each of those writers’ strengths based on stand-alone work of theirs that I have read.  Even though I found  Spirit’s constant questioning of herself to be annoying, I can certainly see how many teenagers could probabaly relate to her issues and her soul-searching.  Largely, I felt like dwelling so much on it really got in the way of the plot and dragged the book down a little, miring it in a whole lot of teenager self-pity.

When it comes right down to it, though, I enjoyed the book once the story started to pick up and get into the real meat of the plot.  As soon as the attacks begin and the real threat starts to emerge, the book becomes a fast and interesting read.  The mystery of who really runs Oakhurst and its purpose is still unfolding, and this book is very much a middle volume in a series.  Things do happen, and they’re important things for both the characters and the plot, but they do not happen quite as quickly as they did in the first novel.  I would not recommend Conspiracies as a stand-alone novel.  It’s important to read that first book in order to see that Spirit really isn’t as whiny as she comes off in this novel and to see how her group of friends formed the team they have become.

I would definitely recommend this book for teenagers, who will probably relate to Spirit far better than I did.  I look forward to the next volume in the Shadow Grail series because this novel has set up some interesting events that should make the next two books in this series a lot of fun to read.  Also, I want to see these characters return to being characters that I really want to read.

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