YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: The Shadows Between Us: by Tricia Levenseller

Publish Date: February 25th, 2020
Number of Pages: 326 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This is definitely a title to check out for those lovers of villains out there! There are many things to this 2020 release that makes it a story that many can enjoy:

  1. A female MC who doesn’t apologize for who she is.
  2. It’s a standalone
  3. Both the main LI’s are villains
  4. It’s been advertised as a Slytherin romance – which is actually almost a perfect way to describe it!
  5. The MC is incredibly complex in her ability to be both malicious and cunning, but kind and thoughtful all the same
  6. I suppose theres a “fake dating” trope
  7. A murder mystery
  8. A devilishly swoon-worthy male love interest
  9. it’s just overall fun!

Now I will be honest…this story wasn’t perfect—they hardly ever are—and this title didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations I’d given it. It had a few components I hadn’t expected to be included in the plot, and I won’t say they were bad, I’ll just say it wasn’t the direction I wanted it to go. It just felt like this book went the safe route after its initial set up, and I’d hoped it’d go down a much darker and twisted path. BUT…this title is still immensely enjoyable in the fact that as its a Slytherin romance, and it’s also a drawn out, slow-burn romance at that, and it still has quite a few enjoyable minor characters to add to the cast.

The cover you see above is the original cover design, but this boy decided to try out Fairyloot, a YA Fantasy subscription box stationed over in the UK, and while it didn’t straight out tell me this was the book I’d be receiving, a little research had made me 99% sure this was the book I’d receive. Below is the Fairyloot exclusive edition:

There’s not too big a difference based off just the initial glance at it besides the color choice of the background, but usually these subscription editions of books there’s more to it: there is exclusive artwork of the two main characters on the opposite side of the dust jacket, exclusive embossing on the hardcover, it’s signed by the author, and has a letter from her with a beautiful commission of the devious couple who star in this story, and that’s not even including all the other bookish items you get inside with your new book! What I’m trying to point out is, if you enjoy reading YA fantasy and enjoy receiving mail, I say check out their website and try it out!

What It’s About:

Allesandra Stathos is a young woman in a higher class noble family, but depending on who you ask, she’s very far from the lady that’s to be expected of her. Empowered to make men kneel at her feet, she’s not above taking a lover or two into the bedroom, and has even killed the very first boy with whom she’s given her heart to out of sheer revenge. Needless to say, she’s definitely not your average protagonist of the story.

In an effort to distance herself from her family and gain even more power, she devises a wicked plan: the woo the young Shadow King, manipulate him into falling for her and asking her to marry him, then to kill him and take the kingdom for herself. It’s a mystery surrounding him as to what his shadow capabilities can do exactly: are they controlling him? He can control them to do his bidding? Perhaps they insidiously whisper people’s secrets into his ear and warning him of who is actually his enemies. Either way, Allesandra has a plan, and she intends to go through with it.

Unfortunately for her, she’s not the only one with a similar plan, and she soon finds herself going out of her way to protect the Shadow King as invisible enemies also attempt to take his life. She’s not the only one who can come up with a villainous plan, but she also needs to watch out to not fall for the king herself in order to be seated on that throne by the end of it all…

What I Liked:

  1. Allesandra is the Main Character We Needed! She’s not the chosen one who’s to save the world, she’s not the long lost queen who’s come to reclaim what is rightfully hers, and thank effing god she’s not the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty when she’s got, like, four different guys fighting for her affections…She’s unapologetically herself. I loved how she can go from planning out someone’s murder to gushing over a puppy in a single moment. She’s incredibly self-aware, ambitious, sexually confident, cunning, smart, conniving, and honestly acts the way I’m sure a lot of us wish we could on most days. Who wouldn’t be pissed at someone who broke their heart, and of course only after they’d had their virginity taken, and want to stab them repeatedly in retaliation? The only difference is: Allesandra Stathos actually goes through with it.
  2. It’s A Villain Love Story! I’m totally into the idea of authors exploring the villain MC prompt more often. I feel like it’d make for a much more compelling story, plus lets be honest, we all like to explore our dark side every now and then, right? I’d love to see how far authors can go into the dark and twisted minds of a villain, and have that be the main perspective of the story. Some great examples of that off the top of my head would be The Young Elites trilogy by Marie Lu, or You (The Netflix show and novel by Caroline Kepnes). It’s a love story between two people who definitely appear as villains, and I appreciated the fact at how it was a more original idea than most of the stories that are published.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Ahh yes, every great romance has that drawn out slow burn…it moves every so slowly, infuriating you until you just want to squeeze something in your hands and feel it shatter! This book does a great job of that, and actually has a unique way of making it happen too; you too feel the burning inside along with the characters until it feels like a mere single touch will cause them both to erupt with passion. I will say though, it’s pretty tame in terms of love scenes, and feels like it has the same sexual tension of a victorian era romance where most of it is drawn from stolen looks and gazing into each other’s eyes…at least until the very end!
  4. Its Commentary on Feminism and Gender Roles! What was not expected from this book was it’s take on women and the role they play and how they measure up to their male counterparts. Allesandra goes against the idea of how a high class lady should act, and even risks her reputation by taking men into bed, and you know…even secretly murdering one too. Throughout the story, she challenges the set ways of sexism and wants a much more forward way of life, and makes a great point of how women should not be judged by what they do or don’t do in the bedroom. Men aren’t judged nearly as harshly, so why should they be? If men can go and sleep around, yet women have to wait until marriage, the math just doesn’t add up there. There was also a strong representation of female friendship. Our MC meets too ladies while staying in court, and she’s never had a pair of girlfriends before; other women have more been competition for her growing up. She develops great relationships with them as the story moves on, and even finds herself helping them in order to find happiness and love.
  5. It’s Standalone Novel! Based on how this story is set up, it’s really great that the author kept this as a single novel and isn’t going to try and make this into a series, or even a duology which is supposed to be the big thing right now for the genre/reading level. It’s not necessary to be honest, and not enough of the world is really explored outside the tightly woven plot. If the opposite were true, then maybe a duology would work, but a single novel is just perfect for this premise (plus there aren’t a whole lot of standalone YA Fantasy novels anyways).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Have We Met Before?…As the story progresses, Allesandra gets to know the King more and find herself falling in love with him a little more every day, and that part of it is fine…I’m more talking about the pure aesthetic that is the Shadow King. He’s a great character, I enjoyed him, but he just seems too similar to other characters I’ve seen before in other Fantasy Titles: He’s pretty much another copy of Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Darkling from The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, or even Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. They all share that same aesthetic of a ruthless dark prince-like figure who’s definitely an anti-hero if not a full on villain.
  2. Absolutely No Worldbuilding…While the romance and the plot were the main focus of this book, the setting takes a definite back seat–so much that it might as well be strapped to a car seat with a pacifier–so anyone who’s a fan of fantasy novels that are rich in detailed and well thought out lands and worlds to explore…you may want to sit this one out.
  3. It Could’ve Gone Further with the Villainous Main Characters…Allesandra starts off on a high note with her evil intentions, and even the Shadow King shows dark ambitious moments, but after awhile it’d felt like they’d lost their edge when it was becoming more and more obvious about their mutual growing attraction. I remember I had similar feelings with how Suicide Squad turned out, and wished there could’ve been more chaos with their wickedness.
  4. What About The Mystery?…I felt like the author could’ve gone further with the whole mystery aspect of the plot as to who else was trying to assassinate the king. I feel like the other villains/antagonists were way too obvious and wished their actually could’ve been more sneakiness behind the scenes amongst the court with more secrets revealed, and I would’ve loved to see scenes or moments with Allesandra trying to figure out who the killer is with her thoughts racing into paranoia. I wanted more courtly intrigue with emphasis on the members of the council and have them be even more scheming than just one character.

Conclusion:

Overall, a fun and entertaining story starring two villains as the main characters and love interests as the story; something you don’t see too often in any sort of work of fiction. Those who appreciate the darker themed stories or the anti-hero characters with obvious morally gray personalities like the characters from both The Young Elites by Marie Lu and You by Caroline Kepnes I think will really enjoy this title!

It didn’t entirely live up to the hype for me, and didn’t put as much focus into certain story components that I’d wished it had, but like I said, entertaining and binge-worthy all the same!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree: by Samantha Shannon

Publish Date: February 26th, 2019
Number of Pages: 827 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT+

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

It took me many moons, many breaks, and many other books in between, but I felt accomplished when I finished this behemoth of a Fantasy novel. Now, was the book as incredible as I hoped for it to be?…

Honestly, I find it hard to say…

There were quite a lot of parts of the story that I enjoyed immensely, some more than others, but I felt as though the book needed a little more editing done as in it maybe needed to be condensed because this book was long…so so long, and I felt like it didn’t need to be. There were quite a lot of high-octane, important moments that pique your interest, but with that comes a lot of slower moments within the four intertwining stories that may or may not be a real haul to cross over, and it felt like because of that the more exciting parts of the story fell flat because they couldn’t entirely hold up the weight those slower scenes gave us.

I will also say that when I started this book back in April 2019, I had no idea it was going to take me until October to fully finish it. The reason behind that was because those slower moments made me have to take breaks from it. The excessiveness made my eyes travel to other books to read in between sessions, and it was like I had to work my way up to getting back into this book. I look at other reviews, at least the ones that are glowing, and scratch my head at how those people managed to zoom through this large book in three days or less…

I didn’t hate it, and there are plenty of parts of it that I really had a lot of fun reading! The dragons and wyverns, even a new creature called an Ichneumon, the slow (literally so effing slow) burn romance, and I really enjoyed quite a lot of the characters. It’s like I said though, I think the author tried to do too much all within this book, that with inconsistent pacing that made it feel like the plot got lost a few times in the middle (or maybe just went off on a tangent too many times) that made the book not start to really interest me until about pages 450-500, and made me not enjoy this title as much as I could have.

Believe me, I am disappointed about that too…

What It’s About:

There’s an ancient evil that rose almost a thousand years ago; an enormous fire-breathing dragon known as “The Nameless One.” He was the king of all dragons and wyrms, and with his army of other fire-breathing creatures, he was destined to destroy the whole world in his raging flame and end life as we all know it. Miraculously, he was defeated and imprisoned deep beneath the ocean, with a myth that so long as there’s a descendent on the throne of Virtudom of the one that ended his tyranny, the dragon-king would never rise again.

Almost a thousand years later, The lands of the east and west are tense and isolated from each other; the reason being that there are different legends of how The Nameless One was actually defeated. The West believed a single man with a magical sword was the hero, while the east believe there water-dragons banded together and defeated their enemy. It caused tensions to rise, and for any alliance between them to end, and have shut their gates of entry with the east terrified of a draconic plague, and the west for thinking the east as heretics and “wyrm-lovers” for revering their water-dragons as gods, along with the possibility of them being allies with The Nameless One.

The story revolves around four main characters as they travel all over the world as rumors begin to stir that the king of dragons may once again ascend from his prison and lay havoc upon them all once again.

TanĂ© has trained her whole life to becoming a high-level dragon rider in the East, but when a strange circumstance presents itself in front of her the night before her coronation ceremony, it causes her to make a choice that could ruin all the work she’d done, and all that she’d sacrificed to get there be for nothing…

Ead Duryan may live inside the walls of court, but she couldn’t possibly feel more like an outsider. As a lady-in-waiting, she keeps a watchful eye over the queen, Sabran Berethnet, who is the descendent of the one they believed to have vanquished The Nameless One. As threats draw near and shadows dance in every corner, Ead must use forbidden magic in order to assure no harm comes to Sabran in the dark times ahead…

Lord Arteloth “Loth” Beck, who is a close friend in Sabran’s court, is banished and sent on a dangerous quest in order to find answers, but finds more than he could’ve imagined…

Niclays Roos, former alchemist for Queen Sabran and her court, has been exiled in the East for many years, making him vain and bitter in his old age, but ends up on an unexpected journey for answers, justice and retribution…

What I Liked:

  1. The Dragons! I never tire of reading books with dragons (or wyverns) within the story. By the way, shout out to the author for knowing the difference between the two! Surprisingly, not as many people know the difference, Google it if you’re one of those people…
  2. The Diverse Cast of Characters! Representation matters, and that is a mantra the author must’ve told themselves as they created the cast of characters within this story. We’ve got almost all ethnicities involved, and even a good amount of LGBTQ+ characters are represented, two of them are of the four protagonists this story follows.
  3. The Slow-Burn F/F Romance! A major highlight of this book is how you watch a relationship start from literally nothing and experience how it develops into an uneasy alliance, to friendship, and then a romantic relationship. It was done so well, and between two important & complex female characters too! Yes, that’s right: a slow burn LGBTQ+ F/F romance!
  4. There’s Feminism Up The Wazoo! If people thought that Game of Thrones was feminine empowerment, think again; this title puts that comparison up in smoke. Every female is a strong, fierce lady in ancient times, even amongst the male characters and fiery demons of the sky coming to cause a lot of chaos. Also worth noting is how these all these powerful women are in high positions of power, which is surprisingly so rare for a fantasy novel!
  5. The Lady Of The Woods Shocking Twist! There’s a mysterious legend behind a witch known simply as “The Lady of the Woods” and seemed like a story that was used to frighten little kids to stay out of the forest at night. ***Mild Spoiler Alert***She’s real, and she plays a bigger role than you’d first think. At around the 500 page mark, a shocking twist is revealed and added some pretty brow-raising news that changes what everyone in this story was lead to believe their whole lives! It. Was. Awesome! Going off of that, there were plenty of other twists throughout the story, and they were fun, but they weren’t anything earth shattering or *gasp* worthy; I’d say this specific twist is the only one that got a big reaction out of me, and the reason behind that is because to me, it was the only one that felt like the author had it planned out before she even started her first draft, when she planned out all the major story beats. It wasn’t randomly placed or added for pure shock value, no, it changed the landscape of the story, and revealed the opposite of what was known as the “truth” was actually a lie for a very long time.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Moves Incredibly Slow…After the initial set-up, the book moves at a much slower pace than I’d anticipated. It’s rich and exuberant with the world building and character development, but when other reviewers on Goodreads say things like “Just stick with it, it gets so much better around 70% in”…Okay, a book SHOULD NOT take that long to finally get interesting…especially a book the size of this one…the book is gargantuan and could cause some major damage if used as a weapon.
  2. TMI With The Worldbuilding…This kind of goes off #1, but consider this more specifically towards the world building done in this novel; while part of me wants to commend the author for going so in-depth with all the history, the different cultures, the history and the legends, the languages, and of course the dragons…it just felt like some of it was a gigantic info dump that made the story so much slower to get through. Maybe it was all important to some readers, but to me, it felt like up to 200 pages could’ve been taken out; I didn’t need so much information on literally every single city they visited or the history of the crown in one of the kingdoms, especially if they were only a part of the story for one chapter.
  3. The Confusing Gender Politics…So while I loved the females with power in the Queendom, part of me was confused by the way their political systems were set up. My impression of some of the lands had the same set up as the same ole way as traditional male-dominated courts we feel familiar with in a plethora of other fantasy. It felt like it was supposed to be a polished and ready to be another chauvinistic, sexist society, but it simply wasn’t…it was just female instead. What my complaint about this is why have a female dominated rule be so similar to that of a male reign? Why not switch up the rules of how the court rules, how the royalty reigns? I felt like the author could’ve made the story a little more interesting if she maybe flipped the normalized, familiar societal culture of a fantasy kingdom on us and created something new and different.
  4. An Ending Like Season 8…What’s super ironic about the ending is that it actually felt so rushed and condensed…UNLIKE LITERALLY THE REST OF THE BOOK. It wasn’t a terrible climax, but I was still shaking my head as it ended and thought “That’s it?!?” It was squeezed in to make sure it was there, to reassure we get an ending, but maybe if the author took my advice and condensed the overall book, maybe she would’ve had either more time or more space to make it more memorable. Sloppy pacing in my opinion. (And yes, I’m referring to the final season of Game of Thrones if no one has caught that by now)

Conclusion:

A story with a rich and complex world full of mystique and wonder, and female empowerment in almost a surplus amount that makes it feel fresh, new, and exciting addition to the fantasy genre; I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this title as much as I’d hoped I would. In my opinion, the author maybe needed to have spent less time on their world-building, and maybe more time on tightening up the plot to possibly condense the intimidating size of this standalone novel.

The characters are the big highlight rewarded to those who dare lift this book off the shelf like a literary King Arthur and Excalibur in order to open it’s pages; they are complex, engaging and well-developed as they travel over land and sea and move the story at it’s inconsistent pace. I recommend this to anyone who loves dragon-centric fantasy, anyone looking for a well written female/female slow-burn romance, or someone who’s just looking for some badass, powerful female characters trying to save the world, and that I’m seriously not exaggerating on! Just because I may not have enjoyed it doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking into for yourself; the book has a lot of positive reviews which makes it incredibly worthwhile to a lot of readers! I just don’t want a book that grabs my attention at the halfway mark!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell