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Conspiracies: Shadow Grail #2    by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill order for
by Mercedes Lackey
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Conspiracies follows Legacies as the second of four in the Shadow Grail series by well known fantasy authors Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. Though the series has resonances of Harry Potter, it is altogether darker right from the start.

In Legacies, Spirit White lost her beloved sister and parents in a car accident. Afterwards she was sent to an unusual boarding school for orphaned young magicians, administered by the Oakhurst Foundation. Though Doctor Ambrosius, who runs the school, believes that Spirit has a magical ability, her Affinity (for Earth, Air, Fire or Water) seems slow to manifest. At Oakhurst, Spirit befriended Loch, gifted in Shadewalking, Kenning and Pathfinding; Muirin, a talented illusionist; Addie, skilled in water magic; and combat magician Burke. Together they took on the Wild Hunt, which had been Tithing Oakhurst students for years.

As Conspiracies opens on Christmas Day, Spirit muses that 'Being at Oakhurst was like being in one of those teen slasher movies where only the most competitive survived.' She worries that one of the teachers or staff had let in the Hunt and is working with the evil forces attacking the school. Who can they trust and what role does the school's secret Gatekeepers society play? But while Spirit still has nightmares about their battle with the Wild Hunt, her friends seem to have shrugged it all off - are they being influenced in some fashion? They come into conflict when she presses them on the issue.

Spirit notices strange runic markings on the huge entry hall oak tree (reputed to be the one in which Nimue imprisoned Merlin), around which the school is built. A very wary new student, Elizabeth, claims to be the Reincarnate 'Yseult of Ireland, wife of Mark, lover of Tristan' in a past life. She speaks of a struggle through the ages between Grail and Shadow Knights. Destinies appear in some of the friends' school rings, but not in Spirit's. There are blackout at the school, during which students are overwhelmed by fear, as well as physical attacks by cloaked and hooded riders.

Spirit wants to confide in an adult but is unable to trust Doctor Ambrosius. Should she open up to the therapist, Doctor Cooper Mackenzie? Then the school is taken over (supposedly for the students' protection) by alums, Mark and Theodore Rider, CEOs of Breakthrough Adventure Systems. Elizabeth disappears. Muirin befriends the Riders. Spirit is contacted by Quercus, who offers her help and 'hope in the dark times.' And when the next attack comes, she leads an effective defense. Though Conspiracies raises many more questions than answers it will keep fans hooked on the series and anxious for more!

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