Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond (Girl on a Wire #2)
Published July 5, 2016 by Skyscape, 382 pp.
Copy provided by publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic.
When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Instead of giving the highly coveted invitation to its intended recipient, Raleigh, her father’s handsome and worldly former apprentice, Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future.
But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. To further distract her, Raleigh shows up none too pleased at Moira’s presence, all while the Cirque’s cocky and intriguing knife thrower, Dez, seems to have it out for her. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows.
Agh I hate when the concept is great but the execution falls just short of making it so, and I think Girl in the Shadows is one example of that. Magic and the circus? Yaaas sign me up! But I felt like it never really came off the pages. The circus world is there when convenient, but not really explored, Moira and Dez as characters are flat and their romance didn’t make sense to me, and the only interesting characters didn’t get enough screentime.
Girl in the Shadows is the second of Gwenda Bonds’ Girl on a Wire series, and features Moira Mitchell on a quest to prove to her dad that she is a good magician – so when an invitation to Cirque American falls into her path, she grabs the opportunity. Moira sets off on a 3-day roadtrip, from Nevada to Florida, to begin carving her own path as a magician. Her audition doesn’t go as planned, but she discovers she may actually be able to wield magic – and maybe she can finally find out who her mom is. But as Moira digs deeper into the mystery of her magic and her mom, she doesn’t expect to encounter secret societies, fight magic-wielding bad guys, and maybe along the way.. romance?
Honestly, I really do think Girl in the Shadows has an interesting premise – it’s just that it’s kind of flat. There were moments where I thought, hey this is kind of good, but those were in the beginning stages of this novel, and Moira was still focused on magic, rather than Dez and their fledgling romance. I don’t think the circus was used to its full potential as a setting – for a place where most of the novel took place it really is underutilized. I didn’t feel like I was in a circus – rather just a traveling show.
This was also a pretty slow-paced book, and with just a few pages short of 400, I felt like this could’ve been condensed into a much shorter page count. I think half of it was dedicated to Dez and Moira’s “romance”, which I didn’t get, and half of it dedicated to finding a coin whose significance isn’t really given an explanation until the latter part of the book.
Like I said earlier, I like the premise, it’s interesting, but it’s also kind of thin. It tries to add more substance by introducing the Prestigae and its secret society, but it doesn’t get fleshed out. The best explanation we get is from the Rex in the form of an info-dumping chapter, and all the fuss over the coin was a bit over the top. I don’t know if the coin was in the previous book, but in this book I didn’t get the furor over it at all.
I wish there was a bit more focus on magic, because the bits I like best are when Moira is performing her magic onstage and when she’s pulling off her illusions. Instead it’s part-mystery, part-romance, with magic as a quirky addition.
Moira isn’t my favorite character – her reasons are valid, and I get that she’s trying to prove to her father that she can be a magician like him, but I couldn’t get behind her all through the book. I don’t like the choices she makes – she leaves without a peep to her father who has raised her singlehandedly for 17 years, she’s with this guy that doesn’t do anything to defend her from his skeevy friend, she spends money that isn’t her own (isn’t that convenient though, her credit cards haven’t been cut off!). It all sounds so petty but again – I don’t know much about Moira. Or any other character in this book. Dez is basically a mystery – he’s nice, a perfectly acceptable hero, if only he didn’t come with Brandon. Brandon who is horrible, who says things like:
“Guess you found him! Walk of shame!”
This is after Moira walks out of Dez’ room after a night, and they didn’t do anything. There is also this gem:
“I can’t believe you fell this hard for a rich girl who’s into bondage.”
Seriously, this guy is disgusting. My note reads “Fuck this asshole seriously.” AND DEZ IS FRIENDS WITH HIM? Each time, Dez does nothing in defense of Moira or to reprimand his “brother” for the things he does and says. And Brandon’s actions aren’t even explained! He just hates Moira, for no apparent reason.
The only interesting characters here are Regina and Dita. Regina is an intriguing character and has a definite arc – she goes from disappearing mother, to powerless regent, to avenging queen. Dita, Moira’s roommate in the Airstream, has a bout with depression but gets through it and manages to get back on her feet and perform again.
The romance, which comprises about half of the novel, felt forced. I didn’t see the connection – the attraction, I could see, since Dez is apparently tall, dark, and handsome, but where is the pull? Moira even said it herself, she didn’t really know him. But here they are, declaring their love for each other as the novel ends. I gave up trying to see what they saw in each other, and just went with the flow of their relationship.
While the plot is interesting, everything else lacks: the execution, the romance, the characters, and truly, the devil is in the details. The writing is atmospheric though – it’s dark, and takes you to an appropriate place for a circus, just that when you get there, there’s no circus, just the bare building blocks of it.
I wish it focused more on the magic and the Prestigae, and less on Dez and Moira. Because magic is one of the biggest draws of this book, and it should’ve gotten a bigger spotlight.
2 stars – for the premise, and Dita and Regina.
Interesting premise, but it doesn’t quite meet the hype it produces thanks to its summary. Magic is here of course, but don’t expect it to be pushed to the fore.
Meh. Some are good, most are bland, and there is one horrible person.
When one half of the couple says they don’t really know the other person, it doesn’t bode well. There is romance though, I just didn’t get their connection.