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REVIEW: Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla

Dear Ms. Bonilla,

If there’s one character type I love seeing, it’s assassins. Especially female assassins. I could probably stand to see less redheaded assassins though. Seriously, what is it with fantasy and redheaded assassins and/or redheaded women? Still, the promise of a female assassin was enough to lure me into picking up your debut. I tried to read another debut earlier this year featuring a female assassin, but that quickly became a DNF. So I hoped for something better with your book. But while I did finish your novel, it was with very mixed feelings.

Shaedes of Gray by Amanda BonillaDarian is an assassin. She makes it a point to only kill people who deserve it but there’s no getting around what she does for a living. She kills people and she does so well. Until now.

Darian is also a Shaede. Shaedes are supernatural beings that can turn into shadow at night. Very effective ability for an assassin. People are usually born Shaedes but a select few — the powerful ones — can turn others. The process to become one isn’t very clear — no exchange of blood likes vampires, no bites like werewolves — so I’m guessing it was something mystical.

Darian was made into a Shaede. The man who turned her into one vanished many years prior and is assumed dead, so she assumed she was the only one of her kind. After all, that’s what her maker told her so why should she have any reason to doubt him?

It turns out he lied. Darian is not the only one of her kind. In fact, she’s been recruited back into the fold for specific particular mission. And to succeed at this mission, she’s got to train for it because while she was good against humans, it turns out her current skill level is nothing at all compared to other Shaedes and the man she now has to kill.

I really wanted to love this book. It had promise. Finally, a female assassin who’s hard and not depicted to be incompetent in the opening pages! But as the book progressed, I realized that while I like my female assassins to be hard, I also prefer for them not to be complete and utter sociopaths dissociated from their emotions. Now I assume that to be a good assassin, you need to be able to dissociate to a certain extent, but there’s compartmentalizing and then there’s being emotionless. It makes it hard for me to like Darian.

For example, Darian’s backstory is that she was an abused wife. Yes, I’m sure everyone is surprised that the tough as nails heroine had a tragic backstory in which she was beaten by her husband. At least she wasn’t raped. On the other hand, the reason the husband beat her was because he was closeted gay and resented it. Talk about cliches and stereotypes! A woman can’t become strong unless she was abused? The gay man is evil? Really?

But that’s not even the point I was trying to make. You see, when the abusive husband gets what’s coming to him, Darian watches the scene unfold with no reaction at all. I would have taken anything. Hysteria. Cheerfully jumping in to help. Screaming and running away when she realizes that the man they invited into their house is in fact a murderer! Her dropping to the floor and saying, “Okay, kill me next.” Anything! Instead, I got nothing. She just stood by and watched.

Now you could say her lack of reaction was a sign that the abuse had affected her. That she could no longer feel. But based on the rest of the book, I don’t think that was what was intended at all.

I also found her to be willfully ignorant. It’s not just her actually believing they were the only ones of their kind. It’s the fact that she didn’t stop to think that there were other supernatural things walking around. And to tell the truth, I can’t help but think badly of a supernatural character who has no idea what a Jinn is. When she was human, sure. I can buy that lack of knowledge. But Darian’s been alive for a long time. She lives in modern-day Seattle. She doesn’t know that jinn=genie? Let’s not even get started on the fact that while Darian insists on only killing evil people, she doesn’t actually confirm that the people she’s killing are evil! She trusts her handler, Tyler, to vet everything. I know it’s just a personal preference but I really want my protagonists to be smart and clever!

There’s a romantic subplot but it feel really flat for me. I had no idea why Tyler was so in love with Darian. Was it a genuine emotional connection? Some sort of supernatural soulbonding? Both? Who knows? And I personally found the insistence that Xander was a rival for Darian’s affections to be laughable. I found the scenes where Darian interacted with Xander to be lacking in romantic or sexual chemistry at all. Trying to see Darian as being torn between Tyler and Xander was impossible despite the book telling me that Darian was attracted to Xander. I didn’t see that at all and every time the book told me that, I made a face.

Which brings us to the final point. This book is a lot of telling. It’s also a lot of withholding information for the sake of withholding information. I really dislike this. I knew who it was Darian had to kill the minute they mentioned it. It was so obvious there might as well have been neon orange flags around it. The fact that it took so long for them to reveal the identity in the book was annoying.

While I liked that the novel took the idea of a shadow assassin and showed how nasty the applications of that can be, I really could not get behind Darian. Her backstory was so cliche and she followed the path of many an urban fantasy heroine and started developing unique and random superpowers no one has ever seen before when times got tough. The romantic subplot was poorly done in my opinion, and the plot lacked any twists at all. I don’t regret reading the book but it does remind me of why the urban fantasy genre frustrates me so much. C-

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. Helen
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 08:11:21

    Huh,
    I really liked this one. I thought the characters were believable. I do agree that there was more telling than showing which is why I gave it a 4 not a 5 on goodreads.

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  2. Alex
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 08:38:21

    Huh. With all those problems did it warrant a ‘c’? I would put it more of a ‘d’ if I was to go on just your review.

    I do like the idea of an assassin, but I always wondered about people like me (the ones who like assassin characters):
    Can we get behind an assassin who doesn’t only kill “evil” people? Is there ever room for a morally bankrupt assassin who finds redemption? I just get sick of these “only kill bad people” heroes/heroines as an easy out. OTOH it’s just impossible for me to ever like a hero (loose-term) that’s been that evil in his past.

    Dear Quandary, I don’t like you. Make up your mind and move out of my head. Thanks, Alex

    PS: I have no patience for an author who uses something like being gay in the way this author did. In fact, it infuriates me and makes me fantasize about throwing monkey feces at her house.

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  3. Jia
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 10:00:08

    @Helen: I’ve heard that a lot of people like this book, but I seem to be one of the outliers.

    @Alex: I admit I waffled a little but opted to go with the C- because it didn’t incite strong passionate feelings of hate? On the other hand, my C-’s are pretty close to D’s. It’s like the difference between a C+/B-. Not much but something about the novel ticked it over to the higher or lower.

    I agree with you about the concept of a morally bankrupt assassin. TBH, I think it might work in certain genres than others. Like, I’m not sure how well it’d go over in the romance genre or even urban fantasy crossovers like this one. But maybe in the straight fantasy genre, it’d be more acceptable. Hard to say. I remember C.E. Murphy wrote a couple books featuring a fairly hardcore assassin-spy and while my issues with them had to do with various plot-related threads, I know many readers had serious problems with the heroine who was fairly amoral and calculating. So it is a fine line to walk.

    (Regarding your P.S. — I actually think it was the backstory reveal that marked the downhill slide for me. I was doing fine until I reached that chapter.)

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  4. Christine M.
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 10:04:15

    My favourite lady assassin so far is Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford, although it’s contemporary. I have yet to read Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series (UF) but I hear good buzz about it. Not sure I’d like this. And the word Shaede is hurting my eyes, not sure I’d survive a whole book of it.

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  5. LG
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 10:20:26

    @Christine M.: You too? It’s strange, for some reason I can take a book full of made-up words better than odd spellings.

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  6. Jia
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 10:27:57

    @Christine M.: I LOVE the Nadia Stafford books. I’m really bummed by the fact that it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get any more of those.

    I remember trying the first Elemental Assassin book but something about the heroine’s voice really put it off. Trying too hard? I might have just not been in the mood for it.

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  7. Jia
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 10:30:07

    @LG: Ha! Yes. I admit I rolled my eyes when I saw the spelling and even more when I saw what it referred to.

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  8. JL
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:00:19

    Well, I think this review finally solidified my choice not to pick this book up. I’m okay with an assassin for a main character (though I’m of the opinion it’s an overdone trend) but I abhor telling versus showing. I often end up shouting at books “Why? Why? Just because you said so?” If I believe a story, I’m pretty forgiving as a reader, but when I can see the author trying to pull the strings or whatnot, I get frustrated and nitpicky.

    While I recognize that domestic abuse is an all-too common reality for many women, I don’t like seeing it in books, especially UF, if it’s used as a short-hand to make the character more sympathetic. It’s so overdone and cliched. When I think of my favourite UF heroines – Kate Daniels, Toby Daye, Jane True – they all have tragic or weird backgrounds, but they’re all unique and interesting and unexpected. No rapes or sexual assaults as a child or domestic abuse.

    I second (third?) the love for the Nadia Stafford series. I don’t know who the evil publisher who cut them off at two books is, but c’mon! Please just give us more. I’m dying to know what happens to the characters.

    As for the Gin Blanco books, I too got frustrated with the voice and the obnoxious repetition, but they are fun and have interesting plots, not to mention the whole supernatural bit is very unique for UF. Plus, Ms. Estep is just one of the most pleasant and respectful authors online I’ve ever encountered, so I’m won over.

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  9. Christine M.
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:07:58

    @LG: I’m a language practitioner so these just drive me crazy. Like all those ‘new’ names with Ys instead of Is and extra Hs and… *shudders*

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  10. cbackson
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:17:14

    Frankly, the creative spelling is enough to convince me never, ever to read this book. Is there not a heroine in the land of urban fantasy who will come to the aid of our poor, abused English language?

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  11. cbackson
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:17:51

    @Christine M.: My cousin named her kid Aydynn. Seriously.

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  12. Jia
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 11:27:27

    @cbackson: I think an urban fantasy heroine needs to come & rescue the poor, much-maligned letter i!

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  13. Josephine
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 12:29:49

    I was considering getting this for an upcoming plane trip. I’m glad I read your review first. The abused wife and abusive closeted gay husband back-story would probably make me throw the book away with great force. I’m pretty sure air marshals don’t take kindly to that sort of thing.

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  14. Jia
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 12:36:40

    @Josephine: That would be pretty awkward.

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  15. Christine M.
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 12:50:27

    @cbackson: *facepalm* I couldn’t help but think of all those kids in Toddlers & Tiaras.

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  16. cbackson
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 13:44:12

    @Christine M.: I’ll up the ante of awful: Aydynn is a boy.

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  17. Alex
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 14:09:42

    @cbackson: *facedesk*

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  18. Christine M.
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 14:14:53

    @cbackson: I’ll second Alex.

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  19. cbackson
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 15:06:54

    @Alex: Oh, I’ve got more of these, I’m just sparing y’all. Rednecks: that’s how we roll.

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  20. Jo
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 16:59:24

    Yep that’s pretty much how I feel, though I would give it a D because I’ve got some strong feelings of dislike happening! *sigh* Pity, I was looking forward to reading it.

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  21. Ruthie
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 17:26:03

    @cbackson: That hurts me so much.

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  22. Eggs
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 04:38:48

    Maybe she had to go with the awkward ‘shaeds’ spellings because Moning alread has supernatural killers called ‘shades’ in the Fever series? Those shades are what lept to my mind when I saw the title.

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  23. HellyBelly
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 04:44:29

    By mistake I bought the wrong Shades of Gray (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9203125-shades-of-gray), but it was a DNF for me. So, I was looking forward to this one. What a shame it seems to be a dud as well.

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  24. Pamela
    Jan 01, 2012 @ 23:46:07

    I tried reading this a couple weeks ago and put it down after a few chapters. I too love an assassin female protagonist, and I can take them both ways, as a moral type character who only kills off the bad guys, or an amoral, anti-heroine who doesn’t have such strict guidelines… as long as the character is developed!

    In this story, there was an information dump 3-4 pages in, interrupting what was meant to be an action scene opening. I couldn’t believe it. This was a traditionally published book with professional editing, and there it was, a big back story boring me to death in the first chapter.

    I really like reading about tough chicks, kiss ass heroines, and this one was absolutely faux kick ass. Ridiculous.

    ReplyReply

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