This book was almost a four star book for me, the final few chapters were what changed my mind in the end. The premise of this book is nothing new. A rather ordinary female lead character who dreams of doing bigger things who crosses paths with the daring bad boy. Together they run off on an adventure and fall for each other along the way. It’s a tried and true formula in young adult. When done properly it makes for a very good read. But sometimes authors fall into a trap of feeling like they MUST make their story different and so they do things that don’t make sense. That is what happened with the end of this book I believe.
Shadow is a pretty good character. She has a more finely honed sense of self preservation than most female leads in fantasy novels, so I appreciated that. She was strong and looking for adventure, not afraid to leave her entire world behind to do it. The love story between her and Cal seemed very organic, which can be unusual in the genre. But she was also too stubborn for her own good and it made no sense. She defied Cal or opposed his opinion just because she could. There was no logical reason behind her belief that her idea was better than his, she just decided that her idea was better. Even though this whole adventure was Cal’s job, literally, and he was very good at it. It might have been better to defer to his expertise from time to time. It might have saved both of them some trouble along the way.
Cal was a fairly typical young adult love interest. At times he was dashing, brave, and witty. And at other he seemed like a set piece. I had no real objections to him, but I did not find him particularly compelling in his own right either. And I have no idea how this magical Blood Vow actually works either. Supposedly it binds Cal to the Queen, to do her bidding until he fulfills the vow. And if he tries to defy the vow he will be in horrendous, increasingly awful, pain the longer he tries to resist. But, he does resist the Queen’s orders, for most of the book and doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. Because Shadow told him this was the Queen’s plan, so I guess his belief is a loophole? If he believes he is following the vow then he is? That makes no sense if it’s a magical thing. The story would have been just a good without this piece that wasn’t actually explained.
As for the plot and the plot twists, I expected most of them. Especially the big one, I knew it from very early on in the book. But I also didn’t really mind, the fact that I had figured it out was largely inconsequential to the other pieces of the puzzle. I may have discovered one piece, but the rest of the puzzle didn’t hinge on that one piece so it was still a surprise to me later. A few of the “twists” I didn’t really find that shocking or distressing. Cal seemed distressed over them and frankly I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because there was so little world building in this book that I didn’t have enough information to be as disturbed as other characters were. The only world building is an occasional chapter of an excerpt from some historical text. So, a few info dumps. And honestly, as a reader, I never remember information given to me in an info dump. They are boring and my mind skims them automatically. As a consequence, I know very little of the history of the world or how its magic works. That didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story, but it might have impacted how I felt about certain plot reveals.
Now, my one and only SPOILER WARNING for this review:
I figured out very early on that Shadow was really the Princess. All I needed was to know that the Princess was secreted away somewhere as a commoner, and that Shadow’s mother worked in the palace and I knew. It wasn’t difficult. But, Shadow’s chapters are narrated in the first person. So the reader is quite literally inside her head. She never actually revealed that she knew she was the Princess in her narrative. So, as a result, I figured that she did not know. That everyone had kept it a secret for her own protection or something,
But then in the last few chapters she literally thinks, “My mother is the Queen of Renovia. I have known this for my entire life. And I have been in denial about this truth my entire life. For my own safety, I do not speak of it, let along think about it.” (Chapter 49, page 350). So, wait, you don’t even think about it? I recognize that this is an attempt at giving the author a good “out” for why Shadow was narrating in first person but didn’t let on that she was the Princess. But, our brains are messy things. Human thinking is a messy thing. Thoughts come in and out of our minds like clouds, entirely without our bidding. It doesn’t make any sense that at no point she didn’t randomly think “Cal would be so horrified if he knew who I was.” or “I feel so bad for deceiving him about my identity.” I was very confused about that. Our brains are tricky things that often think things that we don’t intend to think. This was the most annoying factor in the entire book. Why not just narrate Shadow in the third person? Cal is narrated in third person, it wouldn’t have been out of place.
So that’s the book. I liked it a lot. I think I will tune in to the 2nd book in the series to see where it goes. Some bits were a little frustrating, it certainly isn’t perfect but it was a fun use of my time.