In the Shadow of the Sun is a quiet, beautiful book that not only re-imagines the 1661 court of Louis XIV with magic, but also explores in-depth personal relationships and how they can shape history.
Rating: 4.75 Stars
A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher at my request. The decision to review it was my own and my opinions are not influenced in any way. This post also contains affiliate links.
In the Shadow of the Sun
Author: E. M. Castellan
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 11, 2020
Synopsis: It’s 1661 in Paris, and magicians thrill nobles with enchanting illusions. Exiled in France, 17-year-old Henriette of England wishes she could use her magic to gain entry at court. Instead, her plan is to hide her magical talents, and accept an arranged marriage to the French king’s younger brother.
Henriette soon realizes her fiancé prefers the company of young men to hers, and court magicians turn up killed by a mysterious sorcerer who uses forbidden magic. When an accident forces Henriette to reveal her uniquely powerful gift for enchantments to Louis, he asks for her help: she alone can defeat the dark magician threatening his authority and aid his own plans to build the new, enchanted seat of his power – the Palace of Versailles.
If I had a subgenre that was my own personal brand of catnip it would “Historical Fiction but with MAGIC!” and that is exactly what In the Shadow of the Sun is.
In the Shadow of the Sun focuses on Henriette of England as she navigates King Louis’s French court and her new marriage to Phillipe d’Orléans, all while trying to keep her identity as a magician’s source a secret. After an accident that nearly claims the life of the king forces Henriette to reveal her secret to Louis, she finds herself caught between two royal brothers. But with magician’s sources being murdered, Henriette must learn who to trust before she, or the ones she loves, turn up dead.
Castellan manages to walk the line of history and fantasy perfectly, and lavishly brings to life the enchanted life of the French Court. I’ve mentioned before in reviews for historical fictions that I’m not a history buff by any means, but I felt that Castellan worked the story in a way that remained true to history while also tweaking things where needed. Nothing ever felt out of place or forced for the narrative.
I will admit that the world building was a bit lacking. So much was focused on the royals, that the rest of France fell away. And while the descriptions of the settings were exquisite, it felt like an opaque bubble was around the core cast of characters and we never got to see the world outside. The balance was just not quite right, but I personally wasn’t terribly bothered by this. I recognize that the story was truly focused on just Henriette and the royal court, but a lack of acknowledgement of the greater world around the characters does chafe a bit. It will really boil down to the individual reader for how they feel about this.
The magic system was fairly interesting and built out just enough to make sense, but not so much that it was overpowering the story. Basically, there are magieciens and Sources. The magiecien channels the magic through the Source. So all magic must be done in partnership, which I find particularly interesting.
For a book that is just over 300 pages I think we get a lot of really good characterization. The focus is really on Henriette, Louis, and Phillipe, but there are many side characters that get their spotlight in the story. I enjoyed all the characters, but I really felt the most for Henriette. Her feelings are strong and easily relatable. I think what I liked the most was that Castellan never tries to absolve her characters of not being perfect. Louis and Phillipe were not always the best of men and we see that in the story. Though the real-life counter parts were probably a bit more volatile, I liked that we got to see many different sides of them, and not always the best ones.
In the Shadow of the Sun is a damn fine historical fiction/fantasy in my eyes. It perfectly balances history and magic and characters to create an engaging story that will leave readers wholly satisfied.