I am used to requesting advance copies from Netgalley, so when I got the email from the publisher themselves to review this debut YA fantasy novel, I was very excited. And I’m glad that despite taking me a while, this was a good read.
The first thing I look for in any new fantasy series is a well developed world. In this one, we are mostly relegated to the city of Edriast but we get to explore a lot of it. I could really picture the various places and streets and the keep of the Lord and I thought that was wonderful. There is a map of the city at the beginning of the book but I didn’t find it to be very clear or helpful. The main magic in this story is limited to the Relic which is in the possession of the Lord, and while we do get to know some information about how the Relics came into existence, we are never told anything else about the how or why of the magic. While I guess it was a necessary choice for the story to keep our main character ignorant about the magic and I understood it narratively, it still left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
I’m a huge fan of YA fantasies and I usually tend to devour them in a day, but this one took me a few days because it was a little slow paced. All the events mentioned in the blurb take almost about half of the book to happen, so it felt slightly predictable at times. There is a lot of talk about a rebellion happening against the Lord but we never get to see any actual rebel attempts. There is also zero action in this installment – not that it is necessary but I guess I’ve just come to expect atleast some action sequences in every fantasy novel. The story here mainly focuses on our main character’s daily life and the ways in which she is being affected due to her new position as the Lord’s Shadow. This makes for a great character arc and we really get to know her deeply and I surely enjoyed that. But it also means we are limited to her story and what she knows, and never get a bigger picture of what’s happening outside. And while I did expect that there would be an explosive ending, what happened left me totally stunned coz I did not see that coming. It was really a shock and I had to take a breather to absorb what happened, which is a testament to the author’s writing talent.
Kaylen is an easy character to sympathize with because of her predicament. She is a loyal and compassionate person who adores her family and is completely distraught when she is chosen as the Shadow. And while most would have succumbed to the hopelessness of it, she never lets go of the idea that maybe she could change her fate or atleast those who might come after her. She doesn’t want to make friends but she can’t keep them away because she really craves some human connection. I really liked her developing friendships with both Jesper and Markus and their scenes together were some of my favorites in the book. On the other hand, reading about the havoc that the Relic unleashes on her both physically and mentally is very painful and excruciating. The author very masterfully describes her hallucinations, the way she loses her grip on reality and how much it leaches her hope, making us feel everything that Kaylen is feeling. There are some violent scenes which were particularly difficult, but the author does a great job showing us the truth about what’s happening to her. And that’s why what happened towards the end is a master stroke, because it gives a very new direction to Kaylen’s story and it’s quite interesting to guess where she goes next.
We only get glimpses of the other characters through Kaylen’s eyes but it was nice to see her bonds with everyone, some friendly and some antagonistic but still important for her. Markus was the one I liked the most because he seems like a very nice guy who just wants to protect his little sister. Jesper is an interesting woman and I could never totally understand her motivations, but it was nice to see a strong female friendship develop in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Lord Rennard was not the typical villain whom I could just hate on sight and it was very fascinating to try to figure out how much of his cruelty stemmed from his own personality vs how much was the influence of the Relic. But the story kinda ended before I could get to know him more and I would have liked that. Bellamy, the leader of the rebellion is only alluded at and I still can’t figure out his motivations and whether he is as noble as his followers seem to believe. We get to see so little of Kaylen’s family but their love for each other shone through the pages and the separation broke my heart.
Overall, I think this is a strong debut with fascinating characters whom I came to love but with limited world building. If you like your fantasy novels to be less epic and more personal, then this is the perfect book for you. If you enjoy slow paced fantasies which have strong character focus but are not action oriented, then you should definitely give this one a try. I’ve still not decided if I will continue on with this series (my TBR is already killing me) but it’ll definitely be on my radar.
PS: Thank you to Talem Press for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.