Saturday, 20 December 2014

Dark Fairytale

Since I'm not a huge fan of the fae mythology (just never got into it enough), I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy Sandy Williams' Shadow Reader trilogy. I was happily and pleasantly blown away. I wasn't expecting have as much action or such dire circumstances, but this just goes to show how you should never assume anything. Minor spoilers to follow.

The covers definitely show how tough McKenzie is.

McKenzie Lewis’s ability to read the shadows has put her—and those she loves—in harm’s way again and again. The violence must end, but will the cost of peace be more devastating than anyone ever imagined?

After ten years of turmoil, the life McKenzie has always longed for may finally be within her grasp. No one is swinging a sword at her head or asking her to track the fae, and she finally has a regular—albeit boring—job. But when a ruthless enemy strikes against her friends, McKenzie abandons her attempt at normalcy and rushes back to the Realm.

With the fae she loves and the fae she’s tied to pulling her in different directions, McKenzie must uncover the truth behind the war and accept the painful sacrifices that must be made to end it. Armed with dangerous secrets and with powerful allies at her side, her actions will either rip the Realm apart—or save it.

The first two books, The Shadow Reader and The Shattered Dark, continue to follow McKenzie and her friends through the dangers of creating a new rule in the fae Realm after the death of the king. It's down to the wire now, and not just because the fate of the Realm is on the line. McKenzie must finally make her choice between the two fae that matter most to her: Kyol, the guardian that saved her life by forming an unbreakable bond with it, and Aren, the charismatic, devil-may-care fae who captured her heart.

Every character written was strong. McKenzie is a great heroine who never turns away from a fight and will do anything to save those she loves, even when they give up. Lena, now the heir to the throne, is compelling because she understands and accepts her duty, even if she doesn't really want it. Kyol remains as stoic as ever. I wasn't really a huge fan of him in the previous novels, since he seemed to make constant mistakes regarding McKenzie and his feelings for her, but by the end of the novel I got the resolution I was looking for.

As for Aren, well... I love Aren. He's playful and funny, tough and honorable, and deeply in love with McKenzie. But he made me insane throughout the book, to the point where I nearly lost sleep over it. For most of The Sharpest Blade, Aren was trying to push McKenzie away, respecting the life-bond and hoping she would let him go, then sacrificing and letting himself be beaten when he didn't have to be, and almost casually hoping that McKenzie would accept it. I wanted him to be more like his old self– defiant and strong, and to not put McKenzie through so much pain when he could have made things simpler for everyone by listening to her side a little bit more.

The rest of the story– fighting for the Realm– was equally as powerful. The last few chapters of the book were pulse-pounding, and it will be a long time before I forget them. Williams has the extraordinary ability to make readers empathize with McKenzie and the situations she's placed in. When she was torn, I was torn. When she felt hopeless, I felt hopeless. When she felt determined, I was convinced she would succeed. It takes a strong author to do that, and I was completely spellbound by Williams' descriptions and the trials she placed on her characters. The action scenes were brutal and intense, and I honestly wasn't sure if anyone was going to make it out alive in the end.

The only fault I could find in The Sharpest Blade was that if felt a little rushed at some points. Loose ends were mostly wrapped up, but I would have liked some of the other story elements explored more. The villains were brutal and I wanted to know more about them, as well as what the people of the Realm were enduring while the heroes were fighting to save them. I was also hoping for a little more involvement with the vigilantes, the group of humans hellbent on destroying the fae. But it's not my story to tell, and having said all this, I would highly recommend The Shadow Reader series to all urban fantasy fans. Past all the drama, there is a strong series here filled with action and adventure. I underestimated it, and like it's lead heroine, it took me by surprise and rocked my world.


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