Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The Shadow Reader" by Sandy Williams--

So many new urban fantasies to choose from-- many of them with pretty women on the cover. How do you decide which one to read? Do you go with the one with the sword, or the one with the knife and colorful tattoos? I went with the one with the sword-- and I'm glad I did.

McKenzie's only real goal in life is to finally finish college. A simple dream that has been impossible to accomplish after she was found by the fae and thrust into a war between the fae king and the rebels who want to overthrow his rule. For ten years McKenzie has worked as a Shadow Reader-- a human who can read the shadow signatures left by the fae as they travel from one place to another through multi-dimensional rifts. It's a dangerous job, one that McKenzie would like to leave, but before she has a chance to act on that desire she is kidnapped by the rebels.

Rather than just kill McKenzie, the rebel leader Aren plots to convert McKenzie to the rebel's cause by teaching her the fae language and showing her a side of the conflict she hasn't been exposed to before. But McKenzie isn't so easily swayed: for ten years she's been in love with the king's swordmaster and her loyalty  isn't something Aren can procure by a few kindnesses and a lot of overt flirtations.

But the more McKenzie learns about the rebel's side of things the harder it is to be so sure about what side she should support-- and it doesn't help that her attraction to Aren is becoming stronger by the day.

The Shadow Reader is set up, in many respects, as a paranormal romance featuring a love triangle; and usually that would be a turn off for me. What saves "The Shadow Reader" from going off the abyss into the tragically cliché is the way the main character McKenzie is portrayed and the consistency with which the character is written throughout the book.

McKenzie is drawn into the fae world by her special ability and a threat from a dangerous rebel fae when she is just sixteen years old. Her protector and advocate during her years of service with the fae is Kyol-- with whom she falls in love despite the illicit nature of their relationship among the fae. It's the loyalty to Kyol that is McKenzie's driving motivation throughout her captivity with the rebel fae-- and that loyalty is the best characteristic Williams could have given her main character. Thanks to that one admirable trait McKenzie is a well-grounded character who doesn't fly into the arms of the first man with broad shoulders. Because Aren has to work so hard to convince McKenzie that he is on the side of righteousness, we're given the opportunity to get to know him and the people who fight on his side.

"The Shadow Reader" isn't a perfect book. Williams does try to avoid using info-dumps to inform the reader about the world of the fae and how it relates to our world-- and for the most part I appreciate the attempt to fuse the world-building into the story that way. But the more confused I got, the more I wished for an info-dump or two. It would appear that the fae are aware of the human world, but we're mostly not aware of theirs; except for the few humans who can see through fae illusions. But we're never told how the fae discovered our world and why they would continue to open access to it when it appears that our world is affecting the magic of theirs-- and the conflict between the rebels and the throne is largely based on this assumption. There were a few other points that confused me; for example, why humans would cross over to work in the fae realm to begin with. There is some attempt to offer some rationale for this as we get further into the book-- and McKenzie's personal motivations are finally explained. "The Shadow Reader" is definitely a book that you have to read all the way through to fully understand.

Overall fans of paranormal fiction should like "The Shadow Reader." It has a unique story with well developed characters. The romance involved isn't the done-to-death love triangle, but rather the kind that we can all relate to as we let go of our childhood dreams of what we hope for vs. what is realistic as we grow up. McKenzie is likable and tough, but not grating or obnoxious. There are times when she is perhaps slightly too idealized and there is a certain irresistible quality to her that is reminiscent of Bella of "Twilight" but, thankfully, "The Shadow Reader" doesn't come close to that level of angst. Kyol and Aren are also well defined and while you might root for one character over the other, you won't hate either one. It's a likable, fast moving, inventive fantasy that promises to be a series worth following.

4 out of 5 stars


Sullivan McPig said...

Thanks for the review. I was in doubt about this one, but now it's going on my wish list

SQT said...

I liked it. There were a few things I could nit-pick, but overall it was one of those you want to go back to.

Blodeuedd said...

Lol, I do like swords ;)
But yes I got my eye on this one

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great review! I have to say, this has been one of my favorite reads so far this year!

Lisa Richards/alterlisa said...

Just starting see reviews of this book around. Sounds like one I'd enjoy so added it to my wishlist.


alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com