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REVIEW: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Dear Ms. Cremer,

I should preface this review with the fact that I am a huge fan of Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. I know I’ve mentioned it before in other reviews of werewolf YA novels, but I’m not sure I’ve specifically articulated how much I love that book. So much so, in fact, that I constantly look for other novels featuring female werewolf protagonists. What can I say? It’s a very strong love. So when I heard your debut featured an alpha female werewolf on the control of assuming control of her pack, I was all over it. How could this possibly go wrong?

Nightshade By Andrea CremerIn the world of Nightshade, there are werewolves — called Guardians — who serve witches — called Keepers. The Keepers are in an eternal battle with Searchers, who used to be part of the Keepers until a schism centuries ago led them to split in two. Guardians are charged by Keepers with the duty of protecting sacred sites all over world, especially from Searchers but also from anyone who might stumble across them accidentally. These sacred sites are supposed to be kept secret, you see.

Calla Tor is a young Guardian of the Nightshade pack. In the mountain town of Vail, there are two Guardian packs: the Nightshades and the Banes. Calla is the alpha of her generation of Nightshades and when the book opens, she is patrolling Vail’s sacred site, a cave named Haldis.

The patrol, however, turns out to be anything but routine. She comes across a human hiker being attacked by a bear and despite what training and pack law tell her she should do, Calla saves his life and reveals the existence of werewolves to him in the process. This wouldn’t be an automatic problem since blood loss and trauma often to lead to hallucinations (a convenient explanation for why he’d imagine a blond girl turning into a white wolf), but Calla is not so lucky. The young man, Shay, turns up at school shortly after as a transfer student.

This is only the beginning of Calla’s boy trouble. The Keepers have decided to be magnaminous and allow the formation of a new, third pack in Vail, consisting of five young werewolves each from both Nightshade and Bane. As the alpha of the Nightshade’s young generation, Calla is set to be mated to the alpha of Bane’s young generation, Ren. In less than a month, to be exact. She’s known this for a while and has prepared for it. But Shay’s arrival complicates that, because now here is something new, mysterious, and forbidden.

It’s not just the third side of love triangle that Shay offers. Shay has a mysterious background. Despite being human, he’s also the nephew of a Keeper. He has a cross tattoo on the back of his neck that he cannot see. Even though his “uncle” is a Keeper, Shay knew nothing of the supernatural world — or his uncle’s true nature — until he met Calla. Searchers are trying to kidnap him. All of this, combined with Shay’s insistence that the Keeper hierarchy must be wrong because how could they force Calla to mate with Ren (not that he has an ulterior motive in that, oh no), lead Calla and Shay to investigate and try to discover the truth.

I thought Nightshade had a solid, well-paced plot. After reading so many young novels where it felt like the majority of the plot was jammed into the last 50 pages after lots of emo introspection, this was really refreshing. My plot-loving heart appreciated that.

Unfortunately, I also realized that while I love plot, I love three-dimensional characters with fully fleshed-out motivations more. Nightshade was missing that. Why did Calla save Shay? In the actual saving scene, she says she does it because she can’t bear to see him die but why? Is it because she wanted to rebel against the Keepers’ strict regime? Did she do it because it was the right thing to do? Was it a mere whim? Was it because Shay is beautiful? I would be willing to accept any of these explanations, but nothing in the text ever made it clear. Until Shay came along, Calla never rebelled against the Keepers. She accepted their rule and in fact, she has many arguments with Shay about their mission. Nor does Calla strike me to have a strong streak of righteouness or justice. The Keepers commit all sorts of atrocities in front of them. Beauty? Calla shows no sign of being particularly interested in physical beauty. I am ready to accept any number of explanations but I have to be given something to work with. I cannot just pull random motivations out of thin air and apply it to a story.

This problem worsens as the book continues. Calla’s lack of character motivation for doing what she does becomes glaringly apparent. Why? Because as the book goes on, the story becomes less about Calla, the alpha female werewolf, and more about Shay, the human boy with a mysterious destiny. In fact, the narrative stops being about Calla’s journey and growth as a person and focuses on her helping Shay learn his destiny. There’s nothing wrong with that story. Plenty of books exist where the protagonist isn’t the driving force of the plot. But that’s not why I picked up this book, and it makes me wonder why bother making Calla an alpha werewolf in the first place if she can’t be an alpha werewolf. For example: when facing down a supernatural monster, who’s more likely to defeat the monster? The human or the werewolf? I would answer one way based on common sense and the novel’s opening scene but I’d be wrong. I guess when it comes to real, plot-related danger, as opposed to “how they met” scenes, the guy must always rescue the girl.

As you can probably surmise, I’m not a big fan of Shay. And to be honest, the love triangle really irritated me. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m tired of love triangles. I realize they provide easy emotional conflict but enough already. My main problem with this love triangle is that it felt forced and manufactured.

Ren is the Bane’s young alpha male — hot, womanizing, but completely adores Calla. Calla has known him since they were kids and knows that they will be mates. And she throws all that away for a guy she meets on a mountaintop? My suspension of disbelief was stretched already because of that but it snapped when we’re supposed to believe Shay is a better choice than Ren. Yes, Ren wants to dominate her in the way an alpha male does but I think that desire comes from insecurity because Calla is the only girl around not fainting at his feet. He challenges her but he doesn’t push her beyond her limits. It’s obvious he wants their mating and partnership to work and is willing to work for it because he knows Calla is upset that because of pack hierarchy, Ren (as the alpha male) will rank higher than her (as the alpha female). In the end, Ren respects her, as a werewolf and as a person.

Shay, on the other hand, does not, not in any way I could see. When Calla tells him that he has to stop touching her, Shay replies that he can’t promise that and keeps touching her anyway. He insults the werewolves and their unquestioning loyalty to the Keepers. He calls her a coward and needles her when she doesn’t want to do something. He only relents when Calla gets upset or starts crying. Sometimes he even apologizes, but that doesn’t stop him from starting up again five pages later. No matter how much the text may insist that Shay is special, beautiful, smart, sensitive, and nature-loving, I judge a character by their actions. And based on his actions and the way he treats Calla, Shay is a jerk.

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the genuine attempt to make a love triangle grey. Typically, when a heroine has two possible choices, it’s fairly obvious early on which one she’ll end up with. Here, it’s not so clear… until you look at page time and realize one guy has had far more on-scene interaction with the heroine than the other.

And the ending? I was already frustrated by this book but when I reached the ending, I threw the book across the room. I said it earlier but I don’t understand why you would make the protagonist an alpha female werewolf if her only purpose is to show how awesome the human boy is. I don’t care if he’s a love interest and the likely ultimate choice. She is a werewolf. Why in the world would a human be better at facing the supernatural than someone who is part-supernatural herself? So for me, the ending was awful. Other readers not so angered by the narrative subtext, however, may consider it a cliffhanger. Just fair warning.

Because this is a debut, there’s no way of knowing where you intend to go from here. If it’s meant to play out the way it’s been set up, I have no interest in reading further. This book was so frustrating to read that the thought of reading two more novels along this vein destroys my will to live. If there’s meant to some sort reversal in the following two books, I will say that’s an ambitious goal and leave it at that. Simply because the readers most likely to appreciate such a reversal are not likely to stick it out to reach that point. Like me. D

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

24 Comments

  1. katiebabs
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:20:50

    I actually preferred the secondary story with the two male friends that were part of Calla’s pack who are in love but threatened to be seperated by their new Keeper. Now that would be one story I would have loved to read.

    I also found Ren and Shade lacking in personality and Calla is just like every other YA parnormal heroine that is being written.

  2. katiebabs
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:21:26

    @katiebabs:

    Oops, not Shade by Shay! Doh.

  3. KMont
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:34:53

    This sentence very accurately describes how I felt about a recent read. Totally different book, but no less painful an experience, so I know what you mean.

    I can’t remember if I got Nightshade already or not, but if so, it’ll be going into the giveaway pile. Others whose opinions I like to get aren’t as keen on it either (and their reasons synced with yours), and I can understand why. Too bad, the premise, that of the female alpha heroine, did sound nice.

  4. KMont
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:37:22

    OK, I totally screwed up that blockquote deal. Clearly I should not play with the XHTML tags. Not outside a padded room anyway.

    My above comment was in reference to this (We’ll take old fashioned quote marks, Alex, for the win!):

    “This book was so frustrating to read that the thought of reading two more novels along this vein destroys my will to live.”

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  6. LauraJ
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:54:17

    Thanks for this review. I set Nightshade aside after about 100 pages, but have been planning to give it another chance. Now I feel free to pass on it altogether and not think about next year’s sequel.

    I didn’t like Shay. Like you, I was frustrated by Calla’s inexplicable attraction to him. Ren wasn’t a prize, but I thought his personality and Calla’s lack of enthusiasm about their match made up enough conflict without the need of a second guy. I also didn’t think Calla was an interesting female alpha. If I’d read up to the point when Shay saved her, I would have probably put the book down for good on my own.

  7. Jane
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 18:41:32

    The sad thing is that the premise of this book is so awesome and would be even more awesome if it was two dueling alphas instead of lame human boy with special powers saves the day. Ugh.

  8. Jia
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 18:48:11

    @Jane: Like LauraJ said above, there was enough conflict present already between Calla and Ren. I definitely would have read the hell out of that story and I think it would have been a more interesting one.

  9. John
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 21:39:43

    I’ll probably read this because it sounds like my kind of thing, but I’ll probably agree on the love triangle. They have to be GOOD. I like the one in the Iron King series. It’s obvious who she wants to be with, but at the same time it is gray. Both guys are good for the MC, and they treat her WELL. She’s also not stupid and is very independent.

    Anyway, if you haven’t, read Raised by Wolves. Total 180 from this, and I found it to be quite a well layered book.

  10. Helen
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 22:46:36

    Yeah, this was not one of my favorites either. If you like werewolf books some really really excellent young adult werewolf books-
    River and Wolfe take the story in a totally different direction very unique and worth reading. I give them A’s and have recommended them to anyone how likes werewolf books even if they don’t like young adult (by skyla dawn cameron), also the other one I read recently that was very good was raised by wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

  11. Anne Ardeur
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 11:04:27

    Dang. I thought this sounded quite promising (and the cover was lovely) so I put this on my ‘to-read’ list, but now… well, it sounds like all of my pet paranormal peeves in one book. I think this one is going off my list.

  12. Char
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 20:25:17

    It is a beautiful cover, but I’ll be giving this one a miss. I can’t stand the trope (is it a trope?) where the hero turns the kick-ass heroine into a whimp. It sounds like tha’s what happens here, Shya pays no attention unless Calla cries. yep, that’s whimp training. ugk.

  13. Tori [Book Faery]
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 21:02:50

    Can I just say that I love you and this review?

    I started reading NIGHTSHADE a month ago and stopped about 100 pages in. I enjoyed Ren as a character — especially when he was interacting with Calla. Shay? He was the reason I stopped. For the life of me, I could not figure out why he was even in this story.

    If I’m going to be completely honest, this love triangle felt fake the second both love interests were introduced. And I HATE it when authors use a love triangle as an excuse to make the story more dramatic or to further the plot. There’s plenty of other ways to make a story interesting… a love triangle does not need to be the reason. Besides, Ren/Calla would have been a much more exciting story to follow; especially if the two challenged the laws that were forced on them or something of the sort.

    Regarding Calla’s motives, I felt the same way you did: why the heck would she drop everything she’s got for some lame, boring human? And why would she break all her pack laws to save his life?

    Bleh!

    I have not read NIGHTSHADE since that first attempt. Dunno if I want to finish this one… And if I do, I don’t think I’d be interested in the remaining two books.

  14. Ceilidh
    Nov 12, 2010 @ 15:54:52

    Great review. I’ve been put off reading thgis book for a couple of reasons; the derivative sounding plot, the emphasis on yet another love triangle in paranormal YA and the overblown publicity campaign put together for this book. I just don’t think true and deserving hype can be created artificially by publishers.

  15. Sophia
    Nov 14, 2010 @ 16:27:04

    This book was like a template for what sells to the twilight crowd.Love triange check,otherworldy beautiful characters? check ANGST definetely check

    Also something that really irked me..a minor thing but still.Does the author hate Jane Austen? During a conversation between Shay and Calla he asks what her favorite novel is (dont remember what it was) but he likes that she didnt say Pride and prejudice..those books that girls read that always about romance and ends with marriage.

    I couldnt help but stare at the page. I can understand that not everyone is a fan of Jane Austen..but so specific? Why not write Twilight? And if im not wrong wasnt there an awful lot romance and angst in Nightshade? hmmmm

    *end of rant*

  16. Gaby
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 05:14:58

    At least I’m not the only one not liking Shay!!

    I did like the plot, and yes, I will read the next one because I want to know what is going to happen to Calla. But Shay…BORING! Ren was better, at least hotter.

    I can believe Calla gave up her life to be with him, really. I haven’t thought about all you said about Shay being mean to her, but I guess you’re right.

    Maybe in the future, Calla will see Shay as the boring/mean human he is?? I mean, after all the things she did for him, at the end he just leave her?!?!! O_O

  17. Mari
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 23:37:39

    I thought I was the only one who didn’t like Shay! Most of the review I’ve read said they liked the book and they liked Shay. But I didn’t. It is so frustrating reading this book. And I hate the love triangle.

    I can’t understand why Calla likes Shay. Like you said, Shay is a jerk. And, he is very, very BORING! He is the reason why stopped reading this book when I reached page 100 (or something).

    I think Calla should have chosen Ren. On my opinion, Ren is the better choice. I think he really cares for Calla and he respects her. So, I LOVE Ren. Love, love, love Ren. He’s the only one I loved in this book. I loved it when he and Calla are together. When I stopped on page 100 or something, I forced myself to continue reading because of him. Though I only read the parts where Ren and Calla are interacting and skipped all the other things. And then I stopped reading again in the near end because it started to become all about boring Shay, Shay, Shay, and Shay…

    All in all, I did not like the book. I hate Shay. I think Shay is boring. I love Ren and Calla.I love Ren. I think Ren is the better choice. Ren is hot. And did I say I love Ren? Yes, I do very much XD

    Oh, and I love this phrase that you said:

    “This book was so frustrating to read that the thought of reading two more novels along this vein destroys my will to live.”

    Definitely what I feel :P

    I don’t think I’ll be reading the other books in this trilogy. Unless, Calla realize that she should be with Ren instead of Shay. Haha! If there will be more Ren&Calla and less (or even better, no more) Shay in the next book, I might give this series another chance.

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    Jan 11, 2011 @ 04:02:11

    […] as camp whore as the preferable alternative to arranged marriage. Another, Nightshade, presents the arranged marriage as a catalyst for rebellion, particularly when the female protagonist meets a boy who challenges the societal structure of the […]

  19. cheyenne
    May 05, 2011 @ 07:48:13

    while i personally think calla should be with ren, i loved this book! its one of my favorites. i would recommend it to anyone who loves books about werewolfs and romance, my best friend read it and she loved it just as much as me. There are somethings i would like to change but can’t, oh well. guess i’ll just have to wait for the sequel

  20. lauren
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 17:45:27

    From reading all the comments, I have to recommend that all of you read the Tigers Curse series by Colleen Houck, these books are absolutely amazing, and unlike the Nightshade books, they keep you on your toes, I actually felt confused for the female lead (Kelsey) as for which decesions to make. Hope you pick these books up, you won’t regret it! :)

  21. Hailey
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 12:04:54

    @Char:
    I totally agree with you, it would have been better if the heroine remained strong throughout the story. Having the male swoop in and confuse everything, tipping the balance of her world was horrible!

  22. ? Madison ?
    May 31, 2012 @ 20:56:50

    I agree with John (way Up in the comment List) “Raised by Werewolves” was Just
    Awesome and Different … It shows you so many different aspects of these fantasies World
    and…. I don’t know how to explain but, Nightshade was a Very Nice book except the ending It Broke my heart…… Like my ? was tore into a million pieces @__@ …. That’s about it… yeah….

  23. Alexis
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 16:44:17

    This book was such a huge disappointment. I can’t believe I even wasted money on this. To start off… Calla is probably thee worst female character ever written. She’s shallow, and unintelligent, and acts purely on hormones. She doesn’t like shay for any other reason besides hormones. And to add to that SHAY is just as shallow and hormonal. He constantly tries to challenge Ren whose genuine and tries to be good to Calla. Shay is always trying to get Calla in trouble and doesn’t seem to care that it could cost her life. I wanted to rip apart shay and calla and hoped the end would be something where they both get killed. The whole book was just all over the place and I found myself not giving a shit about anyone besides Ren, who was done wrong. Don’t read this book. You’re wasting your time.

  24. angel
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 21:53:59

    This book is very confusing to me. When I first saw the book I was like oh this look interesting. I read the back it said it was about werewolves blah blah blah. Anyways I didn’t understand why it started out with calls just seeing some random hiker and saving him from a grizzly bear has she ever had the urge to save a human before? Why did she choose to do it? Was it because she thought he looked cute? I think that the book should explain why calls saved shay in the first place. I’m thinking about just stop reading the book because the book really confuses me and makes no sense. At first I didn’t no what the beach a keeper or a searcher or a guardian was infill this review just explained it. I think u should of explained all of that in the beginning of the book. Well at least I’m caught now thanks for the review and explaining everything I might just continue the book now that I’m a little bit more caught up. Then again maybe no because it still doesn’t make sense and after reading the review it makes me not want to read it even more :/

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