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REVIEW: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

Dear Ms. Williams:

I admit I passed this book over when it first came across my desk. The cover, the story blurb all seemed a little twee to me. It’s largely about the fae and I’ve never really been interested in that fantasy world. Months later (the book was released at the end of October 2011), I’ve heard quite a bit of buzz about the book and two of my trusted recommenders, Elyssa Papa and Has Bookpushers, told me it was right up my alley. It is in first person present tense which I often profess to hate but frequently read with great enjoyment. You slide right into the view point of the heroine and the tense of the words disappears.

sandy williams shadow readerI enjoyed the concept, the plot and the world but the ending was disappointing. The story is told in the first person and the way in which the story resolved was unsatisfactory. I wasn’t ready for McKenzie to make a decision and I thought the decision she made wasn’t made with much thought.

McKenzie Lewis is a shadow reader which means she can read the location of fae when they “frissure” or trace from one location to another. This skill of hers was discovered when she was a late teenager. When she began to see and talk to people that no one else could see, this led her family and friends to believe she was having a mental breakdown. At one point, McKenzie was even institutionalized. Sadly, large swaths of McKenzie’s backstory is glossed over, particularly how she escaped the psychiatric hospital. The human roots of her life which played an important motivational factor in McKenzie’s story was the weakest drawn.

A series of events played out which made McKenzie amenable to an offer from the King’s sword master, Kyol, to help them hunt down a rebel faction of faes. For ten years, McKenzie has helped the Court fight its civil war. McKenzie never doubts for a minute that she is on the right side of things until she is captured by the rebels and made to rethink her position with the Court. The rebels present to McKenzie the most desirable fruit of all – acceptance of a fae/human relationship. McKenzie and Kyol have loved each other for 10 years, but romantic liaisons between humans and fae are forbidden by the court and Kyol, a man devoted to his king and his service to the Court. In fact, at one point, McKenzie voices her admiration for Kyol’s principles:

I protest, but he smoothes down my clothes with an apology and a light kiss on my cheek. His fingers slide from my skin, and the heat of his lightning fades away. It feels like a part of my soul fades, too. I’m still breathing hard, but the air I draw in is cold and empty. When he fissures out, I want to be angry. I want to hate him for his self-control, for leaving me when I’m craving more than his touch, and for not being a typical, human male. But I don’t hate him. If anything, his restraint makes me love him more.

Aren, Kyol’s shadow in the rebel court, apparently falls for McKenzie right away. I’m unsure why. Both Kyol and Aren are a mystery. This is a problem in first person books but it was heightened here when the interaction between all the characters are limited. Aren begins a campaign to place seeds of doubt in the rightness of McKenzie’s work for the Court. The Court had never taught her their language but Aren will. The Court forbids romantic relationships between humans and fae but Aren shows her that they support that relationship within the rebels. The Court is engaged in nasty inhumane acts against the rebels and the rebels are just fighting for survival, says Aren.

The love triangle between Aren, Kyol and McKenzie is used to highlight the opposing sides and to show that neither side is wholly good or wholly bad which I think was one of the better reasons to incorporate a love triangle. Yet, the insertion of the romance occurred at ill timed moments when I thought the various entities should be more interested in protecting themselves than kissing. I was also concerned that she was fae spelled. It seemed like the fae’s natural charisma could affect her, even against her will. Time and again, McKenzie mentions being affected by the edarratae

I break eye contact, willing my body to cool and berating myself for reacting to those soft silver eyes. I try to tug my hand free again. I need his edarratae gone so I can think clearly.

///

This close, I can become lost in them, especially with the heat of his edarratae traveling up my arm. He dips his head, staring down at me with mirth on his lips.

and one human’s reference to it:

“I highly recommend it,” he continues. “Sex with the edarratae . . .” He shakes his head and a small smile tugs at his lips. “Trust me, you’d love it. You’d never want to be with a human again.”

The largest problem I had with this book is that McKenzie makes a choice at the end of the story. On the one hand, perhaps it is good because while this is clearly the beginning of the series there is a definite end to this book. On the other hand, the conditions under which McKenzie makes her decision are full of emotion and heightened danger. I wanted her to step back and say to both men that she need time to herself to evaluate the role she wanted to play in the fae world, how she was going to reconcile what was happening to her with her desire for a “real” life.

So why the B-? Because the voice is great, the pace of the book is just right, and I enjoyed a book about a fae which means the storytelling was compelling enough to override my initial hesitations. I would recommend it to others with the caveat that the ending might be a let down. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

15 Comments

  1. JL
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 15:08:26

    I think I had a very similar reaction to this one as you did. I thought the pacing was superb (better than anything in recent memory) and I liked that nothing was truly black or white. However, I absolutely loathed the fact that her choice of which ‘side’ to support was somehow irreversibly tied to choosing which ‘man’ (or fae, I suppose), especially given that neither Aren or Kyol had any real worthiness as love interests. That’s just not a plot contrivance I can get behind.

    I also felt that McKenzie was rather Bella-esque. Other than the few moments that she is driven by pure instinct to survive, she had next to no discernible personality or agency (other than to choose between to love interests, of course). Immediately after reading this, I couldn’t even remember her name and had to flip through the book again to check what it was.

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  2. cbackson
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 15:25:27

    I could conceivably be interested in this, but the cover is so generic “disaffected chick with a sword” that I’ll probably never pick it up. Honestly, can’t we get a heroine who’s into battling evil with nunchaku or grenades or, I don’t know, firearms? I can see doing a lot of damage against unspeakable evil with an AR-15.

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  3. Charlotte Stein
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 16:34:56

    Whoa, this looks great! I LOVE first person present. Very heartening to see a romance release like this in that form – gives me hope for my own preferred style!

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  4. Estara
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 17:21:36

    @cbackson: Try Seressia Glass Shadow Chasers series – you even get a poc-heroine and more poc-characters (the love interest for one) AND it’s based on Egyptian mythology! She has a different sort of knife on every cover ^^ – I love the third cover best *tries to add GoodReads cover* – looks like it’s no go.

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  5. JL
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 18:19:46

    @cbackson: I agree with you that this cover stinks. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think the protag ever uses a sword anywhere in the book or has any ability with any kind of weapon whatsoever.

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  6. cbackson
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 18:31:28

    @Estara: Ooh, Egyptian mythology…I wanted to be an Egyptologist as a child (and somehow ended up a lawyer, sigh).

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  7. cbackson
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 18:35:11

    @JL: She’s also rocking the ever-popular cropped spaghetti-strap tank-top, which I haven’t seen on an actual person since 1995.

    (See, for example, the cover of Richelle Mead’s Storm Born; the cover of Ilona Andrews’ Bayou Moon; pretty much any Jeaniene Frost book…maybe there’s just one and they all share?)

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  8. Jane
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 20:48:03

    @JL: I’m on the fence about whether I’ll read the next one. I think I’ll wait to see what my reader friends have to say.

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  9. JL
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 21:04:52

    @cbackson:
    Lol, so true!

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  10. Kira Brady
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 23:23:21

    I really liked this book (and rec’d it to Elyssa…so sorry if you were disappointed!). It reminded me of Moning’s Fever series, which I also really liked. The world building and the smooth writing drew me in. I predict, since it’s UF with the same protag, that the heroine will go back and forth a couple more times before she makes her final choice. Maybe by the end of the series arc you’ll feel she made the right choice for the right reasons? I’m not generally drawn to love triangles, but I liked this debut so much I’m definitely reading book 2!

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  11. MarieC
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 07:17:26

    I have had this book in my wishlist since it came out, but have not read any reviews for it. After reading this review, I’m still interested in it, but will probably wait to see if I can borrow it or the ebook price drops.

    BTW, does anyone know if this is the first of a series?

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  12. Lada
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 07:43:07

    @JL: “I also felt that McKenzie was rather Bella-esque. Other than the few moments that she is driven by pure instinct to survive, she had next to no discernible personality or agency (other than to choose between to love interests, of course). Immediately after reading this, I couldn’t even remember her name and had to flip through the book again to check what it was.”

    This is my biggest turn-off with regards to heroines (or characters in general) and I appreciate how JL describes it exactly. I never read past book two of Twilight for exactly this reason and felt Katniss comes close, especially in Mockingjay.

    I have this book and was drawn by the premise but like Jane, have put off reading it for reasons like first person present (I don’t read that tense with enjoyment) and the love triangle (not a fan). I guess I’m still not convinced it’s for me and will have to keep searching for my next favorite fantasy series. I’ll have to check out the Serrissia Glass series Estara mentioned!

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  13. Jane
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 07:46:35

    @MarieC Yes, this is the first in the series.

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  14. Diane
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 11:58:52

    I just started reading and was surprised by the first person writing, not sure if I liked it;but seeing as I’ve only read about 25 pages I’m continuing it. I read many reviews, all good, and that means a lot to me.

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  15. Estara
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 15:38:25

    @Lada: Re: Seressia Glass – the stories are complete in themselves in each book – so no cliff hanger – but they do have developments that are still there in the next book so it is best to read them in order. They all are out in print and as ebooks, too!

    The author plans on continuing the series, but independently, I guess they didn’t sell well enough – which I don’t understand: really nice urban fantasy with a strong romance, really good worldbuilding and characters, too AND a mythology people haven’t overused AND people of colour characters.

    I any case you won’t feel you are left hanging at the end of the third book, you just want to read more. A bit like the Indiana Jones movies ^^ – considering heroine Kira Solomon has a background in archeology.

    ETA: I’ve found that I stumbled on the series via DA’s Jia in the first place – here is her review of the first book.

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