Review: Dream Magic

“He nocked an arrow. Their armor looked good, but there were gaps he could aim at. Except he’d never shot at a man before. He wasn’t sure he could.” page 197

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic #2) by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 2017, my edition 2018.
MG fantasy, 340 pages.
Lexile: 580L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book.
FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.

Lily and Thorn are back in the gloomy sequel, with added trolls and spiders and sinister intent!

Dream Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon

While we were teased a lot about Lily doing forbidden magic, it didn’t really have any consequences in the first book – she was easily able to pretend it wasn’t her and the focus was more on the murders and political intrigue. This time around, there’s still plenty of court politics (now with actual courting, since Lily’s assumed to be available again) and a few murders (which sort of have the edge taken off by Lily’s ability to revive the dead). But Lily is also properly studying magic, and Thorn is doing more regular squire work, and the social mores and consequences of their situations start to catch up with them.

A few favorite characters are missing from this follow-up. K’leef is off page, Mary isn’t around, Tyburn plays an important plot role but isn’t present. On the other hand, we have plenty of zombies, a young troll, and a few other new characters to engage. I must admit that I didn’t find the new characters as exciting or interesting as some of the missing ones, but at least our two main characters were still able to carry the plot well.

After far too much searching online, I was eventually able to confirm that Joshua Khan is a pen name for Pakistani-British Muslim author Sarwat Chadda, which adds an interesting dimension to the conflict between the denizens of Gloom and their troll enemies. However, the characters here are mainly white-presenting and the mythology is mainly European-based. Since K’leef is not active in this volume, Dream Magic in particular feels whiter than the previous book (and probably also more so than the final installment which is set in K’leef’s realm). [Edit: when I first wrote this review, it was more difficult to find information on Joshua Khan – but it’s since become more of an open secret and is now clearly discussed several places.]

The map in Dream Magic is very helpful as various characters travel through different parts of the country.

Ben Hibon again does well with the illustrations. While the cover for this one feels less compelling than the other two in the trilogy, the interior art is still good. I also appreciated the map, which is very helpful in a book that has more significant traveling around. The strange magical hybrid critter featured in this one is also a bit harder to draw than the bats of Shadow Magic.

Disney Hyperion has a problem with paperbacks – they are wildly inconsistent in quality and formatting. I already have the final book in this trilogy, and the other two are the same size, while this one is about an inch smaller for no good reason at all. The cover is also flattened and overly matte, and while there is another little moving critter on the pages like the bat that so charmed me last time, this one is stiffer and not as convincing as a flipbook.

There were several of these backlist paperbacks which I ordered last year, so you’ll probably hear this same complaint again as I work through older piles for review. Eventually I’ll finally catch up and hopefully won’t purchase any more Disney Hyperion softcovers!

I’m curious about what will happen to books like these and the Momotaro series now that Rick Riordan Presents is an imprint from the same publisher. Will the Khan books eventually get reissued under that label (perhaps even under the author’s real name)? Or will these earlier diverse MG fantasies simply go out of print like the Momotaro books seem to be? This trilogy would be a trickier sell for an overtly diverse imprint like RRP since the two main characters are white, but it is still based in different mythologies and would otherwise fit with the imprint’s content. And the Dilloway books are very Riordan-ish, although they could stand some polish.

The black and white illustrations are few, but dramatic, as seen on page 84 of Dream Magic.

Book two doesn’t stop the murders and intrigue, and there continue to be some very ghastly scenes. This one also has a touch of romance, so I would suggest it for older MG students, although my child who loves these is adamant that they are fine for upper elementary.

Surprisingly, I would mostly agree. While serious situations happen, they’re nearly always unpacked in text and are generally kept MG appropriate. Since this is a other realm fantasy rather than an urban or portal story, I was also okay with the tween characters having some different responsibilities and expectations than children in our modern world would. Other content warnings include an abandoned child, disfiguration, an extramartial affair, gossip, gender stratification, and some creepy deaths.

Recommended, especially for upper MG/lower YA. I think fans of the School for Good and Evil books would probably enjoy these as well.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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