by Angela Cainen

She’s in a whole Other World of trouble.

Written by: Cavan Scott
Art by: Corin Howell
Colouring by: Triona Farrel
Lettering by: Andworld Design
Editing by: Rebecca Taylor

Do you like a strong female protagonist? Do you like magic, demons and mysteries? Do you enjoy seeing blood, guts and gore? And do you think a talking rat always improves a book? If the answer to these questions is yes then Shadow Service may well be the book for you.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Shadow Service; the summary intrigued me. I have always enjoyed books that have mysteries about the characters and plot that isn’t entirely straightforward and this book has them aplenty and weaves them together as well as a magic spell. I was intrigued and excited to see where things were going.

The main character, Gina, is a witch and a private investigator just trying to get by, with a backstory that does come off as a little cliched. The old ‘discovering you are different because your evil step-father beats up your mother and one day you just want him to stop’ isn’t an especially new idea. Nor is Gina growing up in care, though there is a magic twist. There are hints that Gina is not what she appears, not that she has any idea about it. Moreover, the mysteries surrounding her elevate what might otherwise be another backstory with a child who finds out they are a ‘monster’ from what they can do.

Gina is very likeable. She’s down to earth and the way she explains her world, her position and powers never comes off as too expositional, which it easily could. The information fills in the spaces more naturally than it might have done. Gina is also a strong female character but not because she has powers or she can kick ass, which she can, but also because she has flaws and is shown as someone who cares. She’s pretty well rounded and interesting and would be even if it wasn’t for the mysteries surrounding her, which are important as it means she is more than her mystery.

Then there’s Section 26, or MI666 as Aashi (aka Wraith One) calls them. Comprising of Aashi who is handy with a gin, Coyle (Wraith Two) who gets his own tragic backstory, again slightly cliched, their mysterious young looking leader Hex, and Major Crookshanks who is not a cat but is as hairy. The motives of these characters are left a little ambiguous. They are definitely governmental but there’s more to them and the hints we get are intriguing.

Then of course there is Edwin aka Eddie the talking rat. Put a talking rat in a book and I am there. Eddie is a delightful addition and the only real friend Gina has. He’s witty, protective and I want to know more about him too. Rounding out the cast of characters is Quinn, possibly one of the only friends Gina has but also possibly hiding secrets himself. To say too much would spoil the plot. 

What I do love with Cavan Scott’s writing is not only the great plotting but also the mix of drama and humour. The book goes to some really dark places, but there’s always that sense of dark humour running alongside the drama. You do need that as the book gets dark, but it also gives it quite a London feel as you can imagine the characters using humour like that.

Plus the way Gina’s magic works – she gets insomnia every time she uses a spell – is a neat way of showing that magic costs something every time you do a spell. The idea that magic causes fatigue really works and at first glance is more palatable than some of the balance ideas we’ve seen in other creative works, imagining the exhaustion really makes magic not entirely appealing. Plus there’s a nice dig at Harry Potter spells which I appreciated.

There’s a whole host of demons and bad things which are really expressed excellently through Corin Howell’s art, which never shies away from showing the blood and guts aspect of demons and their actions. Some of the best art though is when the supernatural mingles with the mundane. It expresses the horror and other worldliness by mixing with otherwise normal settings. It’s a nice mix of style which puts you off kilter in exactly the way that world would work.

There are some really great panels I would love to describe in detail but, spoilers. Needless to say the art really fits the story well. Shout out to the colouring by Triona Farrell as well because there’s some really great work with red and green throughout.

Overall, this is a really strong first volume. Of course there is a cliffhanger ending but why wouldn’t there be? There’s a lot more to explore here and frankly, I am looking forward to seeing what answers we get to current mysteries as well as seeing what others crop up.

I give it a solid 4 out of 5 non-Harry Potter spells.

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