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REVIEW: Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan

Dear Ms. Slyvan:

I would have never read this book if Angela James hadn’t recommended it to me.   It is published by ACE and while I love some ACE authors like Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews, I associate the line with more straight up urban fantasy, fantasy and science fiction than any kind of romance.   However, Angie told me two things about this book that made me start reading: 1) this is a romance and 2) even though it appears to be the start of a series, the entirety of the romance is contained in this one book.   I was all in.

Queen of Shadows by Dianne SylvanMiranda Grey is a musician and one day she figured out that she could project a particular emotion and affect those around her. She was playing a sad song on her guitar at a local cafe and suddenly everyone around her was weeping.   The next day she went to another coffee shop and played a happy song but thought sad thoughts and everyone weeped again.   Heady with her sudden ability to control the emotions of those around her, Miranda began influencing larger and larger crowds with her music obtaining a regular gig and inciting interest with record people.

As she used her gift more frequently, she began to open herself up and while she could impose her will on people, she was also vulnerable to their emotions.   She became a receptacle of thought and feeling for those who surrounded her until she could barely function in public.   Her dingy apartment became a haven of silence for her, an escape from the pressing unconscious demands of those around her.

One night, stumbling home from a gig, Miranda stops at a convenience store and someone sweeps up behind her without her sensing him. This startles her and she turns to look at him and finds him to be deafeningly silent. The he is David Solomon, Prime of the southern territories and a vampire.   He’s intrigued by Miranda because he senses in her a great gift.   After another gig, he follows her home but is called away to attend to an emergency and Miranda is gang raped.   Toward of the end of the gang rape, she begins to get angry and pushes her emotions out and kills the men with her mind. She’s badly injured though and when David Solomon returns he finds her lying there.

I found the insertion of the rape scene to be almost gratuitous and here is why. In nearly every UF novel I have read other than the Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniel’s series, the female protagonist has suffered a rape.   It is as if surviving a rape is a condition predicate to being a UF heroine.   The only thing that I could see the rape scene serving in this story was a catalyst for Miranda to realize she could use her power offensively.   It did not provide any impediment to a relationship for her and David.   And it wasn’t as if Miranda wasn’t nearing total broken status without the rape.   She was already well on her way to being place in a mental hospital like her mother had before her.   That said, the gang rape see, while graphic and violent was short and the story does not dwell on it.   (In otherwords, I paying for more attention to this issue in the review than the story does).

David Solomon is Prime, one of the 27 rulers of the shadow world comprised of vampires. He wears a Signet, a jewel that signifies his position as Prime. The Signet was created by some power stronger than the vampires and it accepts only certain people as Prime. If the Signet doesn’t light up for you, you can’t be Prime. Most Primes have a Queen, a partner that is picked for them by the Signet. (Cue fated mate music). David has been prime for 15 years and has no Queen. Some Primes never find their Queen and the burden of being Prime with no balance can lead to a precarious situation so everyone around him hopes he finds a Queen, or a least a lover.   One of the more delightful characters in the story is Faith, who is David’s number two in command, but number three on the power chain.   Number two is open, she tells Miranda, awaiting the Queen.

David takes broken Miranda to Haven, the Austin vampire home, and begins to nurse her back to health. He also tells her about the vampires, her gift, and helps her to learn to shield. Over time, they begin to fall in love with each other but she’s not a vampire and his rule over the Southern territories is being challenged by a rogue group who are killing humans, his own people, and tying Miranda to him would place her in danger.

When she is sufficiently healed, David returns Miranda to the city hoping that this will keep her safe.   Implicit in David’s promise when he leaves her is that he will come when it is safe for them to be together.   In true romance fashion, they long for each other from a distance.

David is a bit of a MarySue. He’s brilliant, powerful, makes all sorts of cool techie gadgets for the underworld.   Part of David’s success is his ability to communicate with his vampires and to track their movements. I found it a little incredible that he had time to invent all these gadgets as well as serve as a lieutenant and then a rule in his own right.

I liked Miranda quite a bit.   I never felt that she was a victim, even when she was.   She was strong without being stupid on her power.   The two of them were a good match.   There is a strong world building element even though I didn’t comment much on it in the review. It was good, believable. I thought the suspense was believable. I liked the way David’s anxiety as leader was portrayed. He felt the weight of the Signet often and wished, from time to time, to return to the days of just being a lieutenant, carrying out the orders instead of making them. I loved Miranda’s affinity for music which I originally thought was going to be twee. Love it when my expectations are turned on their head.   While this might be marketed as a UF, it’s a straight up romance.   Fated mates and all.   B

Best regards,

Jane

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PS Apparently Sylvan is a fan fiction writer or was and that some of this story may have appeared in the annals of Vampire Diary fan fiction but I haven’t read any VD work and wouldn’t know fan fiction from original fiction and thus this appeared to be all new to me.

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

27 Comments

  1. Scooper
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:06:07

    I love this book. I couldn’t put it down. I thought I was getting a straight urban fantasy novel, but was pleasantly surprised when the first half of the book played out like UF and the second half like a romance novel. I can’t say I was surprised by the ending, but I was satisfied.

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  2. Eva / TXBookjunkie
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:06:08

    I just bought this last night since it’s set in the city I currently live in (FYI you misspelled Austin). I was afraid it’d be too urban fantasy and not enough romance for me when I first saw this book, but so far everyone has mentioned they feel it’s more of a paranormal romance. Yay!

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  3. KMont
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:13:07

    I also thought the rape scene was gratuitous, especially when, as you said, she was already well on her way to a horrific enough breakdown. I got the opposite impression after that rape scene though, in that it very much seemed to shape the rest of the book. to me, the book was a good deal of it about Miranda getting through what happened to her. The other part dealt mostly with the romance, which I did like.

    David also struck me as too inconsistent of a male lead. He was great with Miranda not so great in his generalized views on women. He didn’t see anything wrong with glamoring women into giving him blood, or other intimate things, while at the same time waxing semi poetical on women needing to break out of the societal pressures dictated by men. I found this to be glaringly inconsistent. And yes, he was definitely a Marty Stu kind of guy, but for all the things I didn’t like about him, when he worked as a character, he really worked well.

    I really liked the ending. Miranda comes into her own quite nicely.

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  4. Carolyn
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:16:30

    I thought it amusing the author was given one star and accused of plagiarism by an Amazon poster. She went by a different name in her ff days.

    I also admired her for deleting her responding post and putting her explanation in her blog instead.

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  5. Jane
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:18:22

    @Eva / TXBookjunkie Thanks. Made the change.

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  6. farmwifetwo
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:24:57

    Ilona Andrew’s had a blog post about the gratuitus rape scenes…. She doesn’t like them, she won’t read them, she won’t write them… Which is why I read very little UF b/c I don’t like them and I won’t read them either.

    There’s no need for it as a plot device. Since I know it’s used in this story… going in the ‘things I have no urge to read’ pile. Maybe I should start such a shelf….

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  7. Angela James
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:32:22

    I had an entirely different view of the rape scene from Jane and I didn’t find it gratuitous to the story. We had a discussion about this via Twitter, but ultimately I felt the story, and the progression of her relationship with David, would have been different without that acting as both a catalyst and a barrier.

    I hope you’ll give it a try and decide for yourself, farmwifetwo, because I do disagree with Jane and it’s a fantastic book (and I have absolutely no connection to the author, the editor or the publisher, so no reason to say so other than my enjoyment of the story).

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  8. KMont
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:35:33

    @farmwifetwo:

    That’s very interesting about Ilona Andrews. May be one more reason for me to heart their books all the more. I can’t help it, but I have to admit that I do not like the idea of the heroine being raped being seen as a characteristic of the UF genre/heroine, but it’s entirely understandable why it might be.

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  9. KMont
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 15:43:11

    @Angela James:

    It’s interesting that you saw Miranda’s rape as a barrier between Miranda and David. I didn’t see that. I thought the barrier between them to be much more about the issue of her safety thanks to David’s line of work. Because David gives out so many clues and obvious details that he is interested in Miranda, and it never seemed to me that her rape was keeping him from her.

    I completely agree that without the rape at the beginning, their relationship wouldn’t have been the same. I felt some of the best romance came out of David’s caring treatment of Miranda when she was recovering.

    That being said, the book felt to me mostly like Miranda’s road to recovery and redemption, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that had I known that’s what it would be, I might not have read it either. I’m personally just a little tired of reading about raped heroines. Still, her recovery is beautifully handled, and the redemption was certainly sweet. The romance is good. I’m betting most folks would enjoy this one.

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  10. TKF
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 18:48:52

    I never got to David. I downloaded the free teaser chapters and didn’t even finish them. It was just blah, meh, not my cuppa.

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  11. OctopusGallery
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 19:33:52

    I have to admit, I was a huge fan of this story when it was a fic. Saved to my hard drive and everything. And there’s a lot of what I loved about that fic still here as well as new stuff I loved. I did not, however, love the rape scene and also thought it was gratuitous. I could have done with a fade to black or even a skip completely (as it was in the original fic). It certainly colors how I rec the book, even though I enjoyed the rest of it.

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  12. Aoife
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 19:49:52

    Thanks for the review, even though I won’t be reading this. I used to be much more tolerant of the whole rape-as-a-prerequisite-to-power thing, but at this point it’s so ubiquitous that I think it’s kind of lazy writing. It feels as though the message a lot of times is that a woman can only come into her true power if she is totally broken down to her lowest point. I just don’t believe that, and I am tired beyond belief of reading about it. It’s too bad, because otherwise I think this is a book I probably would have picked up.

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  13. Jane
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 20:07:23

    @Aoife: As Angie said, she had a different reaction than me and I do think it is a good book. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and the romance and I’ll definitely be on board for the next story.

    @OctopusGallery: I would love to read the original fanfic! Of course, not knowing anything about the Vampire Diaries, it would probably be meaningless to me.

    ReplyReply

  14. Lori
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 20:09:05

    I was very interested…until the words “gang rape” turned up. Sorry, but that makes it an auto “do not read” for me. Thanks for the warning, I’ll be steering clear.

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  15. Ilona andrews
    Sep 21, 2010 @ 21:30:08

    Disclaimer: none of this applies to Queen of Shadows.

    Just wanted to clarify: it’s not that I won’t read a novel if it has rape in it. Rape is shockingly common in real life, and fiction should strive to be relevant.

    But rape is also a horrible traumatic event and I’m uncomfortable with trivialization of something so awful for the sake of instant sympathy for the heroine. If rape is in the novel, it must be completely essential to the plot for me to continue reading.

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  16. MaryK
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 01:06:09

    I haven’t read this though it’s on my list. Just going by the summary here, is it possible the rape scene acts to trigger anger that could break a spiral into institutionalization rather than just a way for her to learn to use her powers? I imagine it would take a pretty strong emotion to disrupt that kind of mental state.

    I only dabble in UF so I haven’t come across a pattern, and the strong romance and stand-alone aspect of this one are very attractive. If I manage to read it any time soon, I’ll try to report back. :)

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  17. Lisa R
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 07:53:02

    I must admit, I rolled my eyes quite a bit while reading this review. The novel sounds like it has a lot of fantasy cliches. Like, a lot. I don’t think I’ll pick it up, despite being mildly interesting. I think I read too many urban fantasies too quickly… especially LKH’s (which is a whole ‘nother complaint). However, it really reminds me of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. Maybe I’ll give those a reread! :)

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  18. DS
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 08:12:03

    I’m not in favor of gratuitous rape scenes, in fact, I tend to avoid them as much as possible. However the presence of one won’t keep me from reading an otherwise good book. But the real problem for me was the mention of the work starting out as fan fiction.

    While I have no real objection to authors learning basic story telling skills in someone else’s universe, the last two books I read that had fan fiction roots (had actually started as fan fiction stories) were not enthralling. In fact one was downright bad and the other was mediocre at best. The only reason I could think for the bad one being professionally published involved attempting to draw in fans of a particular fictional character.

    I felt cheated by the author and the publisher.

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  19. Kelly L.
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 09:30:00

    I loved Queen of Shadows personally, and it completely ate my life for about three days. But I can see why others might not be as enthralled.

    As for the rape, I cringed when I saw it coming, yet I ended up being OK with the way it was portrayed. Her anger about it did help trigger her powers, which is an overused trope, but, I liked that she played a larger role in her own rescue than David did, and I liked that the scene wasn’t written in a titillating way, and I liked that she suffered what seemed like realistic PTSD after the attack. I can think of lots of books where it was done way worse. Rape scenes written to be “sexy,” rape scenes where the victim gets blamed implicitly by the narrative, rape scenes where it happens and then poof! she’s fine a few days later.

    KMont brings up a really interesting point:
    He didn't see anything wrong with glamoring women into giving him blood, or other intimate things, while at the same time waxing semi poetical on women needing to break out of the societal pressures dictated by men. I found this to be glaringly inconsistent.

    I noticed this inconsistency as well while reading, but I think that trope is kind of endemic to the subgenre. It’s like all of us vampire-novel readers have kind of tacitly decided that it’s better for a vampire to glamor his victims than to kill them. When I noticed it in Queen of Shadows, the next thing that popped into my mind was that the heroine of another recent read, Jeaniene Frost’s Eternal Kiss of Darkness, had done the same sort of glamoring in that book. It also seemed like David justified the sex to himself as somehow compensating the women for taking the blood. So, it was briefly an issue for me, but I think I mostly chalked it up to conflicts within the character and to a trope that I’ve seen everywhere. It’s definitely a trope that bears examining and unpacking. I’m just not sure QoS is any worse in that regard than its fellow UF novels, if that makes any sense.

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  20. Cherrie Lynn
    Sep 22, 2010 @ 21:23:23

    This is very interesting. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read this as a fan fic but I do love me some Vampire Diaries (the first four, anyway), and I even wrote a TVD fic myself way back when. If Ms. Sylvan posted at Twilight Tales–and that was WAY before that *other* vampire series–I might have known her.

    Looking *so* forward to reading this!

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  21. Daz
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 03:28:24

    Great review but I’m not sure if this is something I would want to pick up and read. I’m not a huge UF fan.

    ReplyReply

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    Oct 05, 2010 @ 23:12:20

    You know, I wouldn’t have picked this up otherwise… but a former VD fanfic writer? I must have this! Thanks for the head’s up.

    ReplyReply

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