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.


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, sci-fi

My Review: Vicious (Villains #1): by V.E Schwab

Publish Date: September 24th, 2013
Number of Pages: 371 Pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Urban Fantasy)

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

There are no good men in this game.

– V.E. Schwab, “Vicious”

I wish to someday sit down with Victoria (V.E.) Schwab and just talk to her and find out where the hell she gets all her ideas from… How does she think up the stories that pop into her head? Where does she draw her inspiration from? Is she actually in fact human, or is she some enchanted Poet Laureate that is gifted from the gods in creating amazing stories? I want her to publish a book on creative writing or on her process because her books are seriously just so breathtaking, so unique, so creative, and so inspiring!

I will admit I had no idea about this book’s existence until it’s sequel, Vengeful, arrived on bookshelves over the summer of 2018, and the gorgeous cover design immediately drew me in, and the blurb inside sounded like an amazing journey too! I go onto my bible, Goodreads, and saw that it was actually the sequel to another title, the very book this review is about.

Reading this was a refreshing and unique twist on the Superhero/Supervillain genre, and was so completely unpredictable and intensely dark toned that whenever I picked it up, I was dead set on whatever was occurring and easily blocked out everything going on around me. I can also say the two main characters and their dynamic is one of the most unique pairings I’ve read in any sort of story in recent memory.

The overall character work was one of the biggest highlights of this story for me, and not because they are super relatable or likeable…It’s actually quite the opposite. Victor Vale and Eli Evers, the two main characters, are actually pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to decent human beings, but for different reasons. Despite the darkness that they both have, what the author has expertly done with them is make us readers understand them; even though we don’t personally like them or relate to them in any sort of way, she was able to clearly show us the character’s moral integrity, their reasons behind what they do, what drove them, and how they justified even their more heinous acts.

It almost felt like a social commentary in way, similar to that of one of the messages that American Horror Story presents us with: that all monsters are human. We all have a dark side within us, and some are able to keep it dormant and suppress it from getting loose, but of course not everyone is like that. While on the topic of TV/Movie comparisons, I’d say this novel is also similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s Sci-Fi Thriller, Unbreakable, and Josh Trank’s Chronicle. Both films are about people who gain super abilities in some some odd sort of way, and have a darker/grittier vibe on superheroes and the supervillains that rise up and battle it out.

The story’s other themes are ambition, envy, betrayal and power, and two intelligent characters like Victor and Eli were doomed to be torn apart in their own selfish journeys to obtain their goals. They both have darkness in them and succumb to it’s siren call, but are also so good at hiding it from those around them. They both have sociopathic tendencies, and while some people may be turned off to it, I thought it made them more interesting to read about as the story progressed!

With Schwab’s addictive style of writing, an exciting plot, and a totally original set of characters; this book demands to be read!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Victor Vale and Eli Evers were college roommates and best friends; they were both brilliant, arrogant and both saw a fire within each other and wanted to play with it. They both secretly could see that there was something the other kept beneath the surface, something more sinister than what an ordinary person should have, and they both patiently waited for the other to bring it to the surface.

During their senior year, they work together on their senior thesis project and make a startling, miraculous discovery: some people can awaken special abilities when they suffer a near-death experience. They become obsessed with finding out more about this strange occurrence, but that’s when everything starts to go wrong…

10 Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to exact his revenge on his former friend, who’s now his greatest enemy. With him is his large, intimidating former cell-mate and a young girl with an unnerving ability of her own. Together, they all go out in search of Eli, who’s taken it upon himself to be a new kind of “Superhero” for the public eye, but his heroic stance may be less than genuine as he’s lead everyone to believe…

Vicious is a masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

What I Liked:

  1. Morally Grey Characters! No one is entirely evil, and no one is entirely good either. Victor is such a great example of the anti-hero, and his characterization is done so well. He is Ace (Asexual), and is actually supposed to be the hero of the story, even though his entire arc is out of jealousy and the thirst for revenge. Eli was another truly outstanding character to read; he’s the exact opposite of Victor in almost every way: he’s charming, he’s charismatic, and has a smile that could make anyone trust him. The problem with that is (and I know this comparison is cliché) but look at Ted Bundy… Wasn’t too hard on the eyes, but underneath that handsome exterior was a horrific monster with hardly any remorse. Lucifer himself was considered one of God’s most beautiful angels before becoming Satan.
  2. The Author’s Writing Style! The author certainly has a way with words; the only way I can describe Schwab’s style is simply addicting. There’s not a single excessive word, and it all flowed together so well, Schwab expertly knows how to reel in your attention and make you obsessed in guessing in what will happen next, because her work is so unpredictable; you truly are in the dark until the climax of it all.

Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

– V.E. Schwab, “Vicious”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Needed More Creepiness…While it’s excellent in terms of suspense and thrills, I had hoped for more creepiness to come out of this story? Like, I had hoped for more horror aspects of this story. The darkest part of this story is the exploration of both Eli and Victor’s inner darkness and the justification towards some of their more….questionable actions and decisions, but I don’t know…part of me just wanted to be unnerved a little more. I’m not asking for demon possession or floating girls in white nightdresses with terrible split ends coming out of TV’s, but let’s just say it wasn’t necessary to leave the hall light on every night I slept while reading this or afterwards, and for some reason that was an expectation of mine going in.
  2. The Timeline is Out of Order…The main story switches back from present day and 10 years in the past. We start the story with Victor as he had just broken out of prison and gains his new companions around him. We have no idea why him and Eli had such a big falling out or what exactly happened, all we know is there’s undeniable tension there. As you read on, it goes back to when they were back in college, and you slowly learn how it all came to play out and the horrible events that lead up to their eventual confrontation. To some, people can appreciate that parts of the story are revealed to us in such an interesting way, like Victor or someone will say something that obviously refers to something in the past, then the next scene goes back to that event to show you what they meant. For others, and even me to a point, it can slow down the pacing of this story and make it feel jarring and inconsistent.


Very distinguished, very distinctive and very disturbed characters…V. E. Schwab wrote a great novel with one of the more original storylines that I’ve read over the years. Her writing style is very smooth and exciting to read; her prose keeps you intrigued to find out what happens next in the story. I recommend it to anyone who were fans of either fans of the movies I listed earlier, or even the sequels to Unbreakable: Split and Glass. Hell, maybe even fans of X-Men would really get a kick out this title!

This book was especially interesting because not everything was in black and white; no character was completely good or completely evil. It was all about perspective and how light does not always equate to light such as darkness does not always equate to darkness. The two main characters were incredibly interesting to read and get to know; it was chilling to realize that I liked them despite the darkness they both perpetuate. It raised some societal commentary in which we all have a dark side and how we manage it, and answers a ‘what if’ about it manipulating us to do its bidding, which is interesting with one particular character doing “God’s” work in his name as their motivation.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell