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WesternSFA
Sacrifices
A Shadow Grail Novel
by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
A Tor Teen Paperback, $10.99, 300pp
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Lackey and Edghill have a comfortable working relationship - they have collaborated on more than one series - which works out well for us, the readers. The narrative is smooth, and their combined strengths make for great story-telling.

Spirit, Loch, Addie, Burke, Muirin and all the other teenagers at Oakhurst Academy are orphans, survivors of magical attacks that killed their families. According to Dr. Ambrosius, headmaster at Oakhurst, all of them have magical abilities themselves, and Oakhurst is their safe haven as they learn to wield their elemental magics. But Spirit and her friends have figured out that the Academy is really the proving grounds for what is shaping up to be major confrontation between the old powers. Oakhurst means ‘oak-heart’, and the tree that stands at the heart of the manor is none other than the sacred oak that first held Merlin enchanted, and then was made by Merlin into a prison for Mordred, the Undying. But Mordred was freed, and now he is gathering allies, recruiting followers, binding them to him with offers of power, indulgence, domination - or whatever your heart desires. Spirit and her friends do not know where Mordred is, but it is obvious that his influence over their school is intensifying. Oakhurst is now more of a gulag than a prep school, with students and faculty disappearing almost daily, and the Shadow Knights are in charge of Security.

Now that Spirit knows that almost all the souls who took part in the struggle between Arthur Pendragon, his knights, Guinevere’s following and Mordred’s army have been reborn, she wonders where the good guys are and what they are doing to counter Mordred. The answer, unfortunately, seems to be “not much.” Worse, when heroes like the Green Knight do show up and make a stand, or intervene to save any of the students, really bad things happen to them.

Meanwhile Spirit’s best friend, Muirin, is playing a dangerous game of double agent. To find out what is brewing and be able to warn the others, she’s made herself the girlfriend of the very Shadow Knight who personally murdered Burke’s family. Now Muiran is flaunting her status and snarkiness around the school. Spirit can feel how having everything - or almost everything - she ever wanted is pulling at Muirin like a siren’s call. In fact, each them is feeling the pressure to give up, concede, or go along with the program if it will only buy them what they long for: safety, respite, freedom for the mounting terror. If it weren’t for their friendships, their shared courage and their irrepressible sense of humor, surely the darkness would be overwhelming.

And then Muirin discovers exactly what Mordred’s agenda is. The mega-games company Breakthrough Adventure Systems, which has as its logo the image of a triumphant black dragon, has built a games design facility nearby that is actually a fortress, built to withstand even the devastation of nuclear warfare. And what better time for Mordred to strike than on the anniversary of his defeat? Which means Spirit and her friends haven’t got much time to escape, find help, and do whatever they can to prevent Mordred from raining death on the world.

So, just why is this book titled Sacrifices? Because many of the characters make sacrifices. Remember, the word means ‘to make sacred’, not just to give something up. I kept a sort of score card: who gives of what? Who makes sacred ground of where they stand, or breathes grace into their words and actions? My other running record was of the significance of names, and that effort was quite rewarding.

It is clear that Lackey’s recent book Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit is closely relevant to this series, and readers who want more background knowledge of the Grail, which so far has been occluded by all the shadows, will find that book very good reading. As for this series, I will be on tenterhooks until the sequel comes out. Given the timeline, it just might be the Grand Finale! ~~ Chris R. Paige

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