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REVIEW: The Shattered Dark by Sandy Williams

Dear Ms. Williams:

SPOILERS FOR THE SHADOW READER are contained in this review.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. If fantasy books are supposed to be so hardcore, why are the female characters often depicted without agency? And if they aren’t considered romances, why is the primary conflict which hot guy to pick?

The Shattered Dark (McKenzie Lewis #2) by Sandy WilliamsMcKenzie Lewis was introduced to readers in The Shadow Reader. McKenzie is a shadow reader which means she can read the location of fae when they “frissure” or trace from one location to another. She helped overthrow the established fae ruling class with her skills. The displaced fae, or “remnants” as they are known in the book, haven’t taken the change well and McKenzie is still a target. McKenzie is half human but one with “Sight” and thus she can see fae hidden by illusion whereas other humans cannot.

The story opens with McKenzie searching for a friend, placing her guards in danger, and getting rescued by her boyfriend slash fae rebel leader, Aren. It’s the perfect capsule of the entire book.  Our intrepid sword wielding heroine is constantly forgetting her weapons or does not know how to use them, charges into fraught situations, and has to be rescued.  This pattern repeats itself throughout the story in pretty much the exact sequence.  McKenzie’s friend has gotten kidnapped by the remnants.

Much of the book is centered around Aren and McKenzie’s relationship which makes the ending all the more frustrating. Aren professes his undying love for McKenzie throughout the book. McKenzie loves him back, but she feels some need to slow down the pace of their involvement because she isn’t sure how involved she wants to be in the fae realm.  In order to create conflict, we are to believe that it is McKenzie’s truest desire to be human and live in the human world.  She doesn’t want to continue as a shadow reader and hoped with the overthrow of the king that position would no longer be necessary.

The real problem is that McKenzie is a reactor in the worse way and the climax of the story results in betrayal and life decisions being made for her by others. McKenzie doesn’t really seem to fight for what she wants, merely accepting other’s decisions for her.  She’s fairly inept as a warrior so I don’t know why is she is constantly being portrayed as a fighter.  When other shadow readers are discovered, I’m wondering what McKenzie’s purpose even is.

The ending of the book revives the love triangle that was supposedly resolved in the first book.  Maybe if the ending had been different, I would have been on board for a third book but the machinations at the end seemed like a blatant attempt to “hook” the reader on a gimmick rather than a compelling storyline.  It is with this book, I say adieu.  If I wanted to read PNR, I would have picked up a PNR book; not an urban fantasy that pretends to be a PNR.  C-

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

20 Comments

  1. Jess
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 08:30:46

    Oh dear. I figured this was the direction this series would take. I used to be a huge urban fantasy buff, but then it seemed like every urban fantasy was written as a paranormal romance with more violence and more law enforcement (sueprnatural, that is) characters and I dropped the genre.

    More specific to this book. I haven’t actually read it, but it’s been getting rave reviews so I was curious. I wouldn’t be interested in reading about a non-fighter “fighter” or a character that only reacts rather than carving her own path. I admit, it can be difficult to write a non-reactive character (I’ve tried it myself and it was a major fail) but there are ways to make a reactive character appealing. One thing would be to at least keep the focus on her. As you said in your review, if there are other characters who can serve the same purpose, what is the point of reading about this particular one?

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  2. MrsJoseph
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 08:43:12

    We were discussing this very issue at Goodreads yesterday. So many people are shoving romance plots and tropes into an Urban Fantasy shell…and it’s pissing most Urban Fantasy readers off. *sigh*

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  3. Ren
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 10:48:33

    @MrsJoseph: I’ve been pissed about it for years. There was a brief, glorious period when UF was “sword and sorcery in a modern setting.” Then it mutated into “heroines in dysfunctional relationships with monsters that take precedence over any acts of heroism they’re supposed to perform.”

    Otherwise known as “unreadable.”

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  4. MrsJoseph
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 14:20:11

    @Ren:

    THIS!! I could kiss you for this statement. This is exactly what is going on!

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  5. Dana S
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 14:57:48

    I don’t mind a romance plot line, but I am so tired of love triangles in Urban Fantasies. They’ve become such a staple in UF plots that it is impossible to find a series without them. Love triangles only work for me if the triangle gets resolved quickly, and doesn’t get resurrected. I thought the first book in this series was decent, but this plot twist annoys and disappoints me. At this point the only UF books I’m reading right now are ones by Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Stacia Kane, and Eileen Wilks (although I suppose she’s more PNR than UF).

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  6. Isobel Carr
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 15:12:54

    @Dana S: I’m reading Seanan McGuire too. She does have a love triangle of sorts, but it’s never the main or driving plot of the series.

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  7. Jess
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 15:15:24

    @Ren:

    I second (third?) this sentiment. Come on writers, give urban fantasy fans what they really want!

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  8. Dana S
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 15:44:42

    @Isobel Carr: Oh, I forgot to include her. I love her October Daye series. That series has gotten so good. And yeah there’s kind of a love triangle, but I never felt the author was teasing her readers with a “will they or won’t they” plot device or used to create extra drama which I hate. It’s a really well done UF series.

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  9. DS
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 15:45:16

    @Jess: Fourthed! The last UF that I totally enjoyed was Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee. I was hoping for a sequel. but it’s been two years now. I also liked Cherie Priest’s Cheshire Red books in spite of the main character being a vampire. At least she doesn’t sulk about being a vampire. I’m sure that I have read other UF books that I liked, but I have put aside more because the stories seem all too familiar.

    ETA: I forgot about the October Daye series. I’m way behind (2-3 books) on the series so I need to catch up.

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  10. Evangeline Holland
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 16:00:53

    Fifth, sixth, whatever, lol. I too was an urban fantasy junkie for years until it seemed the sole purpose was to have a female protagonist lusted after by ~hot~ supernatural creatures instead of awesome world-building, interesting plots, and watching //the female (or male) protag navigate the supernatural elements. And don’t get me started on all of the super weak voices that ruined my enjoyment of books with all of the aforementioned good elements. Pubs were/are just snapping up any UF to glut the market even if the writing wasn’t riveting and unique. *sigh*. The only series I still read is Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, and Ilona Andrews. The concept must be super unique and the writing must be strongly unique to tempt me to read any new author or series. Luckily, I really loved Vicki Petterssen’s new one with old Hollywood noirish vibe, and can’t wait for book two next year. Everyone else gets a wary eye. :(

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  11. Erin Satie
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 16:21:14

    I’ll second the recs I’ve seen here – Stacia Kane, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Seanan Macguire.

    Nobody’s mentioned Kim Harrison but her Hollows books are also on my top five list. Amazingly intricate worldbuilding and the protagonist’s story arc is really epic and wonderful.

    And Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionist trilogy is fantastic. One of my very favorites.

    I guess the thing that pops out to me is that while I think the biggest strengths of all the authors I’ve named lie in the amazing worldbuilding, the character growth and conflict, creating ways for said character growth to intersect with major, world-changing events, etc., a good percentage of my actual CHATTER about those books is about the love interests. How much I love Terrible or Curran or Tybalt, how much I hope that Rachel Morgan ends up with Trent. That sort of thing.

    I wonder if it sends the wrong message? Because I’m not interested in faux-UF either, I rarely like PNR & I’m afraid that I’m contributing to the problem.

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  12. Estara
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 16:52:50

    @DS: You’ll get a sequel, DS. Sharon sold two more books to BAEN and she was on a two week writing trip down to Orchard Beach which is the real name of Archer’s Beach. She even did a whole online diary for it. Never fear ^^. It’ll take a while though to get the books.

    Herewith, the Lee and Miller (and Lee) delivery dates for the next while.

    Trade Secrets (Liaden). . . . . . January 9, 2012 2013
    Carousel Sun (Archers Beach). . . . . . February 15, 2013
    Carousel Seas (Archers Beach). . . . . . August 15, 2013
    First of Five (Liaden). . . . . . May 15, 2014
    Second of Five (Liaden). . . . . . February 15, 2015
    Third of Five (Liaden). . . . . . November 15, 2015
    Fourth of Five (Liaden). . . . . . August 15, 2016
    Fifth of Five (Liaden). . . . . . May 15, 2017

    For clarity, a small review of terms:

    Delivery date means the date on which a particular manuscript is due to arrive on the editor’s desk.

    Publication date is the date on which a book is scheduled to be published.

    These two things are not the same. Publishers (wisely) tend not to set publication dates in stone until the manuscript has been delivered. A good rule of thumb is to figure that a particular title will be published nine months to a year after delivery.

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  13. JL
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 17:09:52

    I was about to jump on this thread and defend my beloved urban fantasy but… well… you’re all right. I haven’t found a good new series in a long time. This particular one being reviewed was incredibly frustrating because of all the reasons mentioned. The heroine was the worst I’ve read in a long time.
    I have a few beloved series (many of which are already mentioned, but I’ll add Nicole Peeler’s Jane True and Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series to that list). But it seems that publishers are only taking on books that have a unique voice or spin to make them stand out from masses of vampire and shifter stories, but not an actual coherent plot. I enjoyed Jenn Bennett’s Kindling the Moon, but the plot was ridiculous and kind of non-existant (a week to save hers and her families’ lives so she… takes a friend’s kid to the drive-in movies while someone else ‘investigates’? Seriously? Facepalm…) and that’s about it for new releases I liked last year.
    I don’t think it’s just the authors’ fault. I think it’s a question of what’s selling and what publishers are buying. I’m planning on trying more small press UF’s since the big ones have been disappointing. I really liked Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between by JA Saare, which is put out by Mundania Press. I also enjoyed Sierra Dean’s Secret McQueen series (Samhain) – nothing new at all in those books but decently written and enjoyable.

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  14. Readsalot81
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 17:59:52

    I have to admit, this series of books with Sandy Williams, imo , is bland and boring as hell. I picked up the first one thinking it was going to be good and man was I disappointed.

    I can’t argue with the other recs for UF though. I would add though, that Seanan Mcguire’s books.. well they don’t have a triangle after book 5, and things pick up some serious steam in Ashes of Honor.

    I’ll add Kelly Gay and Devon Monk’s names to the addition of well done UF. They do fascinating worlds without the heinous love triangles.. or quads/quin (you know.. in case there’s more than just 2 men after the lady in question).

    @Erin Satie – You raise a good point.. but from my perspective, those authors that you mentioned that do a wonderful job with the developing relationships.. it’s not the whole focus of the books. They go through multiple books with cultivating the relationship and making it a worthwhile addition to the various plot arcs and character development that happen within the course of the books.

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  15. Evangeline Holland
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 18:14:32

    @JL: “But it seems that publishers are only taking on books that have a unique voice or spin to make them stand out from masses of vampire and shifter stories, but not an actual coherent plot.”

    Heh, like I said–I’ve had the opposite problem–weak voices paired with great-sounding concepts and plots. I’ve stopped more series’ because the weak voice got in the way of my desire to see what happened next than those with banal love triangles.

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  16. Susan
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 18:52:56

    Oh, darn. I was pretty unhappy with the first book, but decided to give the series another shot and downloaded this one. Sounds like a big mistake.

    I don’t mind a bit of romance in my UF, but don’t want it to be the entire focus. And especially not a love triangle. And a love triangle that won’t die (groan). But the biggest problem with the first book in this series, IMO, was McKenzie herself. She had a gift which didn’t seem all that useful when push came to shove. Even worse, I found most of her behaviour weak and contemptible, and couldn’t fathom how any of the other characters could possibly find her interesting or appealing. Now I’m wondering why I even decided to give the series a second chance. . .

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  17. DS
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 19:22:55

    @Estara: Good to know about the sequel to Carousel Tides.

    I’ve fallen off Kim Harrison. If I read about her witch changing into a small mammal and being trapped by a villain one more time I am going to do serious damage to my phone by bouncing it off a wall.

    Don’t know how I forgot Stacia Kane. I did enjoy her first three unholy ghost books and I have the two latest ones from this summer in my Audible library. I also bought My Life As a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland in the October Audible sale. About half way through it and I’m entertained despite the gross out zombie factor.

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  18. JL
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 19:23:46

    @Evangeline Holland:

    Maybe we need to trade reading lists! Either way, it’s clear that UF reads are generally letting people down. So disappointing, since, IMHO, there is no other genre with as much potential for intrigue, suspense, imagination, social commentary and romance all in one book.

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  19. MrsJoseph
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 10:52:39

    Ha! Yall listed all the people I get excited to read UF from!

    I want to add Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunter series to that. I loved the first two books – total brain candy/gun porn…but it was good!

    I’ve been meaning to check out the White Trash Zombie and I’m just getting started with Kim Harrison. Love Ilona Andrews, of course.

    I also just started reading Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass due to a rec I found here. So far…so good!

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  20. Shelley
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 18:59:11

    Don’t know if anybody here likes Lilith Saintcrow but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Jill Kismet and Dante Valentine!! So sad they are done. Still need to catch up on October Daye.

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