Luck in the Shadows
At the time a slash fan and occasional reader of yaoi, Luck in the Shadows was my introduction to the genre of canon m/m romance. It also came to me at a time when I had just begun to grow disenchanted with cliché quest fantasy and partially introduced me to the sort of fantasy I would later lean towards (centering on complex cities full of intrigue rather than sprawling quests or wars).On my first reading, Seregil, the second main character, was perhaps a bit perfect but cool and charming nonetheless. Alec was duller but inoffensive, and by playing off Seregil he became more fun to watch. The romance (though minimal in this volume) was endearing. The plot clearly had its duller and slower points, but it usually stayed acceptably interesting just by virtue of involving characters I cared about.Even back then, I felt it to be clearly weak on many points. The clumsy info-dump world building was of particular annoyance. But at the time for me, it was also able to remain unmistakably fun and sometimes engaging despite the weaknesses. Now, after having read plenty more m/m, the mysterious magic of the concept is of course considerably lessened. And I wasn't sure what I'd think of this book which could very well have only been brought above dull mediocrity due to the rose-colored glasses the enchantment of canon m/m allowed me to see it through.And after reading it again, I still can't make up my mind. It seems I'll always be doomed to see this book through strong bias, either of the rose glasses of before or the ostensibly less clouded though very possibly too cynical way I looked at the book this time.Certainly, though, the book does not have many extra layers to better appreciate on a rereading. Much of the joy there was to be had the first time for me was in wondering how the characters would start to relate to one another and begin to have romantic feelings, and when I already knew, there wasn't a lot of artistry or originality put into the telling to make it worth seeing again. The main characters were as I remembered them (one charming and cool and the other bland) but more irritating this time around. Both are Mary Sues of a different sort. Alec the kind that seems plain but really has Hidden Depths and Talents (and catches on to absolutely everything ridiculously fast), and Seregil the more outright amazing and perfect kind. These things don't have to be so bad, but the author emphasizes the characters' wonderfulness in such a heavy handed way that had me frequently rolling my eyes at the transparency of it all.On the other hand, as the book goes on the author apparently decides she's made her point, she starts to lay off overemphasizing her characters' perfection. Once predicting the path of each scene was no longer as easy as guessing what turn of events would best glorify the characters most, Seregil and Alec became a little less predictable and a little less grating. Though the characters aren't terribly complex, the novel is still pleasantly character driven. The short intrigue plot also surfaces some time in the second half, and while nothing spectacular, it was one of the only things that surprised me by being just as pleasantly entertaining as I remembered it.As for the romance, as mentioned before, it is only grazed upon in this volume. What is there is (and if I remember correctly what is to come) is a generally sweet relationship with just a dab of tension caused by unrequited romantic feelings by one of the characters. Despite being for many the main attraction of the book, it's nothing striking or complex or original, especially when compared to the more detailed relationships of much m/m fiction...Only actually, upon my second read, the romance of this series is still one of the most distinctive things about it, and one of its biggest draws. Because personally, most of the m/m fiction I've read has romance as central or fairly central to the story. This lends to greater complexity in comparison to Seregil and Alec's relationship, yet I think there's something very pleasant about being able to read m/m romance where the story isn't *about* romance. And such a romance is likely particularly attractive for a slash fan, who is in fact normally used to the story they're reading or watching being about other things entirely, thinking of the possibility of romance as just a bit of side fun.There's something weirdly cozy and familiar about it to me, a sweet and slowly budding romance instead of the dramatic, wrought out romances of many m/m stories. Indeed, it's the sort of thing we see much more often in the romantic subplots of straight fiction. Cozy and familiar too the fantasy tropes and plot, I suppose. Eventually likable characters, a little journeying, a little thieving, a little magic, a little fighting. Still, while that kind of coziness can be welcome too, in a way, the execution of it all is often bad to lackluster. Either way, it's hard to call one's self a self respecting fan of m/m romantic fantasy without reading the Nightrunner series. But you may keep in mind it might not be so praiseworthy as it's often touted.