This is a book about the women of Arthur’s court, and the men are a little less interesting. Arguably, Arthur doesn’t need to be interesting. He’s a figurehead, a symbol, a walking legend ... At times, Elaine’s voice can be distractingly modern ... But overall, the story has an out-of-time feel, as if its characters have one foot in a fantastical ancient world and another in a time more like the present. The shiftiness makes sense with Elaine’s visions; time is weird for her in general. But it can keep the book’s world from feeling entirely solid. If you sink into Half Sick of Shadows, it has a stately, thoughtful, almost alluringly drowsy feel, like a strange dream on a hot day. It can be a little slow and repetitive, but in the days after I finished the book, Elaine stayed with me. Her perseverance is a quiet kind rarely given center stage, but she holds onto the story, even as her friends are doing extremely dramatic things, and her level-headed narration and determination lead to an end that both is and isn’t what’s expected. To hold on to that kind of yes-and-no ending, where it feels like many outcomes are happening at once, feels entirely right for the story of one of the women behind the once and future king.
I found this book to be a bit confusing because it was constantly switching between the past, present, and future visions. It was frustrating because when Elaine is scrying the future, she is only seeing one of many possible outcomes; nothing is guaranteed and Elaine struggles to figure out how to obtain the future she covets. It was quite scary for me to read about all the ways that Elaine and her friends’ futures could go catastrophically wrong. Whilst this book was slow to start with, it got significantly better once it got going! First off, it was very interesting that Elaine was the main character instead of Arthur. It was also great to see how Elaine, Morgana, and Gwen were strong and powerful on their own and were constantly challenging the traditional expectations of women in Camelot Half Sick of Shadows had a little bit of everything, including action, adventure, quests, romance, royalty, friendship, magic, and so much more. Lastly, my favourite thing about this book was that I thought that the ending was totally fitting yet unexpected! Fans of retellings and Laura Sebastian’s other novels...are sure to love Half Sick of Shadows.
... undeniably engaging characters. However, the story falls short because of its confusing narrative timelines in Elaine’s point of view. Its cast also feels rather immature at times, reading more like Gossip Girl meets Merlin plunked down into a sketchily drawn Camelot ... In working to avoid retelling the all-too-familiar stories of lust and murder as part of the novel's central narrative, Sebastian relegates them to what-if visions. These end up being far more engaging than what’s going on in the present day at Camelot. Moreover, the tantalizing glimpses we get of the friends’ childhood on Avalon are equally compelling and worthy of their own book, rather than getting short shrift ... I would have loved to have seen the adventures on Avalon in linear time, peppered with some (not all, since they are overwhelming) visions, and then the characters’ gradual evolution. Instead, the intersecting timelines create a truncated story that ultimately may leave some readers unsatisfied.
Some retellings fail to convince readers, who already know the ending, to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the story. Sebastian, however, cleverly bypasses this issue. Elaine’s visions inform the reader of Lancelot, Gwen, and Morgana’s betrayals early in the narrative, and the reader is often reminded that these visions do not represent fate but possibilities ... All in all, this captivating and moving tale—centered around powerful Morgana, impulsive Guinevere, and troubled Elaine—explores how friendship both binds and breaks under pressure, especially once these three women start to question why they must sacrifice themselves to fulfill Arthur’s destiny.
Sebastian's characterization is strong; each of Arthur's friends bolster one of his weaker qualities—and do it well—and the young prince's impostor syndrome will ring true to almost any reader. The novel remains relatively faithful to source materials from Malory and the French poets, though the eagle-eyed may spot an anachronism or two. Although the large central cast often requires an excessive amount of pace-hindering dialogue, the end result is one that Arthuriana buffs and newcomers alike can enjoy. A thoughtful, crisp take that brings just the right amount of newness to the timeless legends readers know and love.
Sebastian’s slow-burning adult debut...imbues this classic character with great agency and power, delving into Elaine’s growing talents as a seer and increasingly complicated relationships ... Sebastian’s banter-filled take on beloved characters offers plenty of enjoyment, but the plodding pacing and Elaine’s repetitive visions—the majority of which project too far into the future to affect the events of the novel itself—prevents this adventure from reaching its potential. This is best suited for die-hard devotees of Arthurian legend.