Read a full summary of Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima below. If you can’t remember what happened in Shadowcaster and you need a refresher, then you’re in the right place.
Thank you, Irvin, for writing this recap!
Lyss is the princess heir of the Fells, which has been at war with Arden for 25 years. Lyss is a warrior princess, leading her own armies. Hal is the son of an Ardenine noble, and a captain in the Ardenine army. When he gets captured by Lyss, sparks fly between them. Breon is an addict to leaf, a hustler who gets entangled in an assassination attempt on Lyss’s life, but is captured and jailed. He has a magemark, which makes him a target for Empress Celeste of Carthis.
what went down
- In Crimson Crown, 25 years ago, Queen Raisa of the Fells declined a marriage to Gerard Montaigne of Arden. Instead, she married Han Alister. Montaigne has spent the last quarter century trying to conquer the Fells, to little avail. He (or someone else) has made a campaign of assassinating members of the royal family. First was Hana, the heir apparent to the Fells throne. Second was Han, in the opening of Flamecaster, which caused Raisa’s son (and middle child) Adrian to fake his death and run away. This left Raisa with a lone daughter, Princess Alyssa (Lyss).
- We begin with a prologue, set after Hana’s death but before Han’s death and Adrian’s disappearance. Adrian and Lyss have some sibling bonding time, discussing how Lyss doesn’t want to be queen.
- Flash forward four years. Lyss clings onto hope that Adrian isn’t really dead. She is a badass commander in the army, fighting against Montaigne. (For clarity of timeline, this is set around the middle of Flamecaster.) Lyss reflects, “We are a land of orphans, doing the work of our dead parents.” Roll call!
- Julianna is Lyss’s cousin, daughter of Raisa’s sister Mellony. In Lyss’s eyes, Julianna is far more princessy than she. Julianna has taken over the kingdom’s intelligence service.
- Shadow Dancer is the son of Fire Dancer and Cat Tyburn, who had her throat slit two years ago. RIP Cat. Shadow Dancer is marrying Aspen despite how young he is. He makes weapons, but is also totally up for fighting.
- Finn sul’Mander is the son of one of the Mander brothers (cousin of Micah Bayar). He was Adrian’s friend, and Lyss has been crushing on him forever. He was injured on the battlefield, and now wants to go be a healer.
- Lyss’s right hand, among her devoted Gray Wolf soldiers, is Sasha Talbot.
- Hadley deVilliers is in charge of the news Fellsian navy.
- Cam Staunton was orphaned at age 12 along with his younger brothers. He enlisted in the army, despite Lyss’s instinct to protect him. End of roll call.
- Our second POV character: Halston Matelon, eldest son of the noble who rebelled against Gerard Montaigne. Like his father, he is very duty-driven. He’s a little too good as a commander; Gerard is threatened by him and angry with his father, so he is sent to be in charge of cannon fodder at a battle against Lyss’s forces.
- At the battle: Lyss’s advantage in experience and the home field carries the day. Hal thinks Lyss is a guy, the demonic “Gray Wolf,” and when he tries to take her out, he hits Finn instead. Arden’s enslaved mages turn coat on Hal (because it was a setup). Lyss seizes the moment and kills them. Hal has an opportunity to kill Lyss, sees that she’s a girl, and starts a retreat.
- Twist! Arden’s General Karn (who’s the worst) went around the battle and sacked a town, killing everyone in sight… including Shadow’s fiancé Aspen.
- Lyss and company return home. There’s tension between Lyss and her mother – Lyss wants to go on the offensive and attack Arden, her mother disagrees. Lyss makes a scene at the war council arguing that the Fells need to go on the offensive against Arden. To her surprise, everyone there from her generation agrees with her.
- Surprise! Julianna and Finn are engaged. Lyss is not happy, but tries to be gracious when asked to be the equivalent of maid of honor.
- Lyss convinces Shadow Dancer to perform with her at a concert for the Briar Rose Ministry. The performance goes really well, even when Lyss’s songs get political.
- Third POV Character: Breon (Bree) is a musician, part of a “musical troupe” that’s more like a gang. The leader, Whacks, is all kinds of awful. The girl (Aubrey) has an on-again-off-again thing with Breon. The youngest one, Goose, is a total drug (leaf) addict. Breon takes care of him, though he himself uses a lot of leaf… but he can totally quit anytime!
- Breon has a mysterious musical instrument called a jafasa that no one is familiar with, but was apparently left to Breon by his father.
- Whacks gets Breon a gig of playing music to woo a random girl for a mysterious and sinister stranger named Darian. Breon takes the gig because there’s a lot of money involved.
- The girl turns out to be Lyss. Breon successfully entrances her with his music – he has powers that allow him to connect to a person through a keepsake of theirs. But Breon is surprised when the wooing turns out to be an assassination attempt. (No one else is surprised.) Breon flees the scene.
- Lyss and her entourage manage to fight off the would-be assassins, but adorable Cam Staunton is killed in the kerfuffle because the Seven Realms is a cruel cruel place. The arrow he was shot with was poison, reminiscent of how Lyss’s father was killed. That’s no coincidence: the bouquet that Breon was charged by Darian to give to Lyss is a replica of the bouquet Han was carrying for Raisa when he was murdered.
- Breon manages to evade capture by both soldiers and Darian’s henchmen, but Darian’s minions have murdered Whacks and Goose to cover their tracks. Aubrey managed to survive.
- Lyss and company are all pissed, and decide to liberate Delphi from Arden. (Delphi was an independent city-state that Arden took over for their coal mines, and they have not taken kindly to being conquered.) But Lyss goes to ask her mother’s blessing.
- Lyss overhears her mother and Captain Byrne discussing her still-very-much-alive brother Adrian, and getting him from Oden’s Ford. Turns out Adrian was ratted out to Raisa a few months after he disappeared, but Raisa kept the secret to herself thinking he’d be safer if he was “dead.” Raisa chose not to tell Lyss because Lyss was only eleven at the time, and is very contrite about having put it off so long.
- Lyss and her army meet up with some local rebels in Delphi, and on Winter Solstice, utterly decimate the occupying Ardenine forces. Lyss recognizes Hal Matelon and takes him as a political prisoner. (This is the fall of Delphi that was mentioned in Flamecaster.)
- Hal tries to do right by his soldiers, but gets roped into duking it out with Fellsian leader Quill Bosley, who’s totally the worst. Lyss sees, and knows Bosley is the worst, so she sits down for a chat with Hal. Hal believes Bosley’s boasts about sleeping with Lyss, and doesn’t know Lyss is actually the princess of the Fells. There’s a connection between Hal and Lyss that you just know is going to be a pretty epic romance down the line.
- Good news: King Gerard is dead! Raisa arrives in Delphi to give Lyss the happy tidings. They’re pretty unclear on what actually happened (it was the climax of Flamecaster), but know that it’s good news.
- Raisa decides to bring Adrian home on Hadley’s ship. In the meantime, shewill keep Hal as a prisoner of war until she sees how things shake out in Arden following Gerard’s death. Lyss is in charge of transporting Hal to Chalk Cliffs.
- En route, Hal stumbles upon Lyss drawing, and they get to talking. Suddenly, Lyss asks, “Would you like to kiss me?” Hal would like to, and things almost get sexy between Lyss and Hal. Buttons go flying, but they are interrupted by Bosley (who is the worst), and both feel very guilty about the almost-indiscretion.
- They get to Chalk Cliffs. One day, Hadley’s ship comes, but with no Adrian on it. Instead, Hadley brings the (somewhat out-of-date) news of an attack on Adrian’s dorm at Oden’s Ford – the event that precipitated Adrian’s adventure at Ardenine court in Flamecaster. Everyone assumes that Adrian really is dead this time. Lyss chooses not to go home to be with her mother, for fear that one of them will say something unforgivable.
- Lyss does not take the news well, and barges into Hal’s room, really drunk and intent on playing a very hostile drinking game. Everyone is thankful that Hal is a standup guy.
- The timeline has now caught up to the end of Flamecaster. Let’s check in with Jenna Bandelow and her new dragon, named Flamecaster! Jenna is trying to get a saddle made so she can ride Flamecaster, but is struggling to find someone to do it. She meets up with Shadow Dancer, who takes a liking to her and finds her a tanner to make the saddle – the younger sister (Sparrow) of his dead fiancé.
- Meanwhile, Breon and Aubrey are traveling to get away from the Fells and all the people who want to punish Breon for the attack on Lyss. They meet up with Shadow Dancer, who agrees to take them along when he travels. When they arrive at their destination, Aubrey vanishes, and Shadow Dancer double-crosses Breon. Shadow figured out that Breon was the one who attacked Lyss, and a peek at the broken jafasa confirmed that, so Breon is taken into custody.
- Breon really gets under the skin of his jailor, Sasha Talbot.
- Sasha and Shadow bring Finn in to question Breon about the assassination attempt on Lyss. But it turns out that Breon’s magemark (like Jenna’s) absorbs all magic, so they can’t know if he’s being honest (which he more or less is).
- Someone sneaks Breon some poisoned leaf while he’s in the prison, just as Lyss arrives at Chalk Cliffs to question him, but she gets healers to save him. He explains how his powers work: he uses music to reveal to each person “their truth,” and uses their personal artifacts to amplify that. He tells Lyss all he knows, she’s not particularly satisfied. He also begins imagining himself to be more grandiose for a eulogy, and styles himself “Shadowcaster.”
- Back to Jenna! Jenna spies a ship chase happening along the coast – the Empress Celeste is chasing the mysterious pirate Evan Strangward. Celeste gets a glimpse of Jenna, and expresses both recognition and greed. Oh, dear. Evan and Jenna both give her the slip.
- Jenna finds Evan sharing a blood-filled drink with his crew around a campfire, and has a tete-a-tete with the pirate. Evan reveals that he, too, has a magemark.
- The takeaway? Celeste is hunting the magemarked (Jenna, Evan, and Breon thus far), which will enable her to grow more powerful. She has already got two other magemarked individuals, who were taken to the Northern Islands and never heard from again. Evan was trying to save Jenna from the Empress, but was willing to kill her as a Plan B… and Jenna takes that somewhat personally.
- Evan warns that Celeste is going to invade the Seven Realms with her bloodsworn (soldiers who are super strong, unquestioningly loyal, and don’t feel pain). Jenna takes this under advisement, but still torches Evan’s ship.
- Jenna flies to Chalk Cliffs, and with some fancy aerial pyrotechnics, warns Lyss of the incoming army.
how did Shadowcaster end?
Celeste launches her attack on Chalk Cliffs. Once it becomes clear that Celeste’s bloodsworn outmatch Lyss’s soldiers, Lyss and Talbot make a plan to flee by boat, keeping Hal and Breon with them as prisoners. Lyss, who hates ships, is not a fan of this plan.
Breon and Hal end up in the same cell block, where Breon lets slip that Captain Gray is Princess Alyssa. Hal’s mind is blown. He doesn’t let on that he knows. After a bit, Talbot and Hal get separated from Breon and Lyss.
Celeste catches up to Breon and Lyss. It turns out Aubrey sold Breon out to the Empress. There’s a whole standoff between Celeste and Breon; Breon still cares about Aubrey so he willingly comes to Celeste. In return, Celeste burns Aubrey to a crisp, because she is very evil and very ruthless. Celeste takes Breon prisoner on her ship and sails off, after appearing to bury Lyss under rubble.
Yet when Talbot and Hal visit the scene of the battle, Lyss isn’t there. But her locket is, with an inscription: her initials and Breon’s, with an arrow pointing towards the sea. Talbot and Hal assume they were both taken prisoner. Hal vows to get her back.