Warring, warring, a love triangle and more warring.
I had such high hopes for The Shadow Reader—I’d read a number of rave reviews of it and since I’m desperately seeking a new urban fantasy series, I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, Sandy Williams’ debut novel, fell flat for me despite its creative premise.
Mckenzie is a Shadow Reader. And, despite her incessant complaining (which is understandable, given all the warring she winds up involved in as a result of this job), this is a pretty sweet gig. Basically, she can read a fae’s (which is basically a magical badass fairy-type person) location when they “fissure” (move from one place to another). She’s really, really good at her job, so her services are in hot demand. She’s been at this job since she was teenage, when the Fae King’s Swordmaster (annnnnd… this is where I should have reminded myself that fae-based urban fantasy simply isn’t my thing—too much royalty) recruits her. During her decade of service with the fae court, she falls in love with the swordmaster, Kyol, though much of the time he chooses to not allow the relationship to progress. So, Mckenzie plans on quitting her job just as soon as she finishes her last exam and gets her degree. Except during that last exam, Kyol interrups her on Very Important Fae Business™ and drags her off into the middle of a fae battle, during which she is kidnapped by a fae rebel, Aren.
This all happens in the first couple chapters.
At which point, I thought,
This book is either going to be a badass action trip or tediously detailed as these fae battle for supremacy.
Unfortunately, we went through Door #2.
During her capture, Aren expends huge amounts of time and effort to convince McKenzie to question her beliefs about the court for whom she’s worked and help the rebels. He makes sure she learns the fae language (in an absurdly short period of time), convinces her that the rebels aren’t the violent jerks she’s been told they are and tries to get in her pants.
I didn’t really understand where Aren’s attraction for Mckenzie came from, it was just there, suddenly. And I was absolutely baffled as to why Mckenzie was intermittently enamoured with Aren—usually at inappropriate times, such as when Aren is bleeding uncontrollably and she ogles his hawt bod,
“What are you doing?” I swivel my eyes away from him and stare at the road, trying not to remember the way his body looked when his torso was covered in nothing but silver dust.
“Bleeding,” he responds. He tears his shirt down its center.
I give in to temptation and glance over when he tears the shirt again. He wraps the strips of cloth around his injured shoulder. His abs clench when he pulls the bandage tight. Damn.
I focus on driving. He’s not attractive. He can’t be, not when he’s covered in blood and bruises. And not all the blood is his, I remind myself.
Mckenzie has long internal monologues like this fairly often during the copious amounts of warring that happens throughout The Shadow Reader, which was constantly frustrating as it felt inappropriate and immature. I have skewered YA novels for less, and Mckenzie is supposed to be an adult who knows that if your companion is potentially bleeding to death, it is simply not the time and place to ogle.
Also, blood loss: not sexy.
Anyway, Mckenzie and Aren continue their journey—with loads of warring, naturally, and we learn that the fae politics are not as Mckenzie thought. This is where The Shadow Reader really lost me, as the intricacies of the fae politics simply didn’t capture my interest. This is the point where other readers will probably completely disagree with me, so if you like complex (including quite a complicated lexicon—and frequent use of the word “fissure,” which had me making all sorts of dumb/hilarious jokes in my head as I was reading) fantasy, you’ll probably love this aspect of Williams’ novel.
I never found Mckenzie to be particularly sympathetic.
She learns some pretty lousy news during the course the novel and, yet, it was tough to muster up the effort to root for things to work out okay for Mckenzie. This isn’t helped by the first-person narration. (I actually found myself wondering at one point while reading if I’d enjoy this book if it were rewritten in third person, as I grew weary spending so much time in Mckenzie’s thoughts.) I did enjoy that she was flawed, however, unlike many of the “kick-ass” urban fantasy heroines that populate so many novels. She hurts, bleeds and screws up—and this was what saved the novel from being a did not finish, as it was a refreshing change. And, there were a few brief moments where I really enjoyed the voice, thanks to Williams’ snappy writing,
I shouldn’t have slapped him. It’s such a weak, girly thing to do. I should have balled my hand into a fist and launched it at his nose.
Finally, Mckenzie is ultimately forced to choose a side (naturally). And this was where I really was bothered again—she chooses a side so very quickly, and almost impulsively. And, I was icked out that the choice between political sides was intertwined with the choice of which man she wants. (Yep, there’s a love triangle—which I don’t hate inherently, but rarely like because they’re not all that compelling much of the time.)
Ultimately, despite its merits that will likely appeal to readers who enjoy their urban fantasy a bit more fantasy, the occasionally snarky fun of the narrator’s voice (she’s got a great sense of humor) and the impressive, intricate world-building, The Shadow Reader was just not a novel that excited me. However, with that said, this is one that is extremely dependent on what you want in an urban fantasy novel. If the blurb appeals to you, and you enjoy lots of (well-crafted) battle scenes and aren’t turned off by a love triangle, you may want to give Sandy Williams’ The Shadow Reader a shot.
Cover Note: Holy hell, what is the cover model wearing on her legs?
Jeggings are never a good idea, but those create some extremely unfortunate creases that really should’ve been PhotoShopped out—STAT!
Verdict: Meh verging on No Thank You.
FNL Character Rating: Lyla Garrity—and not the later, sympathetic iteration of Lyla.