Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

Urban Fantasy is a funny thing.  By its very name, it should have a contemporary city setting but there are a lot of books termed urban fantasy that have nothing to do with cities at all.  Take The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams. The heroine spent much of the book being held captive in various isolated locations.  I never had the sense that she was even near a city, let alone in one.  There's also a certain tone urban fantasies have that was missing from this story.  This book felt more like a classic fantasy that was occurring in present day.  This is not a criticism of the book, by the way.  Merely an observation but if anything, I would categorize The Shadow Reader as Contemporary Fantasy.

The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams
(McKenzie Lewis, #1)
GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy
ISBN: 1937007014 
ISBN13: 9781937007010
Published October 25th 2011 by Ace
Blurb: There can only be one allegiance.
It’s her time to choose.
Some humans can see the fae. McKenzie Lewis can track them, reading the shadows they leave behind. But some shadows lead to danger. Others lead to lies.
A Houston college student trying to finish her degree, McKenzie has been working for the fae king for years, tracking vicious rebels who would claim the Realm. Her job isn’t her only secret. For just as long, she’s been in love with Kyol, the king’s sword-master—and relationships between humans and fae are forbidden.
But any hope for a normal life is shattered when she’s captured by Aren, the fierce and uncompromising rebel leader. He teaches her the forbidden fae language and tells her dark truths about the Court, all to persuade her to turn against the king. Time is running out, and as the fight starts to claim human lives, McKenzie has no choice but to decide once and for all whom to trust and where she ultimately stands in the face of a cataclysmic civil war.

There were several aspects about this book I liked.  I enjoyed the politics – the rebels against the realm storyline, while not new, was suitably entertaining, there was some nice action sequences and the two male leads were recognizable but enjoyable beefcake-y types.  Kyol is all honor-bound and restrained while Aren is volatile, bad boy danger.  Clichéd, yes… but still effective.  And shadow reading is a new and inventive ability that captured my imagination.  I only wish the heroine got to use her ability more often instead of spending most of her time as a damsel-in-distress.

Taken at face value, there was much that was appealing about the heroine.  McKenzie is a modern-day gal who’s been thrust into the dangerous world of the Fae.  Her ability to track the Fae makes her unique and very valuable to a king in search of rebels but other than that she is depicted as a regular girl, just trying to finish up a college degree.  As much as I love my kick-ass urban fantasy heroines, sometimes its nice to have a change of pace, so I appreciated that. 

But, just because McKenzie is a regular girl doesn’t excuse how friggin naïve she is.  She has the emotional maturity of a teenager and sees the world in black and white, never questioning what she is asked to do.  I get that she has a certain loyalty to the king.  After all, it was his forces that rescued her the first time she was kidnapped.  Only 16 at the time and at the mercy of a Fae madman, it’s natural that she would see them as good guys.  It’s understandable that she would accept a job as a Shadow Reader for the king, even at the expense of her own life in the human world. However, obligation does not justify lessened compensation – especially when the employer is a friggin king!  At one point, McKenzie states that she is sure the king would pay her more if she asked but I’m wondering why should she have to?  She has a rare and valuable gift.  It’s not like there are a whole lot of others who can do what she does.  So why isn’t she paid accordingly?  Man, I am so TIRED of female characters who undervalue themselves.  Know your worth, sisters!
Anyway, ten years later, McKenzie is kidnapped once again. It’s an exciting opening to the book, swiftly paced and action filled, as McKenzie, with the help of Kyol, attempts to escape the rebels.  Alas, it is not to be and the rebels make off with McKenzie, spiriting her away to a remote location.  This was when I began to lose patience with McKenzie.  She kept worrying that the rebels were going to kill her but this wasn’t a hostage situation or a kidnapping for ransom.  The rebels needed her.  They wanted to utilize her ability. They went out of their way to capture her at much danger to themselves.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that they wouldn't have gone to that much trouble if they hadn't wanted to keep her alive.  So why all the Oh-noes!-I-am-in-fear-for-my-life?  Honey, they are not going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg… at least not immediately.  There is room to maneuver here.  
I don't need all my heroines to be kick-ass, supersmart dynamos but I do expect a certain level of common sense.   

The problem is, McKenzie has a serious case of arrested development.  She has the emotional maturity of a teenager and it was the love triangle where the heroine lost me completely.  At age 16 she fell for Kyol, the king’s sword master and her chief rescuer.  He’s stoic, honorable, super hot and their love is FORBIDDEN.  The Fae aren’t supposed to mess around with humans so for the past ten years, their romance has consisted of soulful longings and  a few can’t-help-myself kisses.  Forbidden Love, y'all!  Who could compete with that?  Hhmnn, how ‘bout hot-blooded, rebel Aron.  LOVE TRIANGLE!  Unfortunately, it was one I couldn’t get invested in.  McKenzie's feelings for the two men bordered on school girl fantasy.  There is no real tension in her struggle to decide between the two men because there are no real stakes.  Don't get me wrong.  There could be if the execution was stronger.  There are heinous things done in war and both Kyol and Aron have done some of them.  McKenzie seems to rationalize their actions and not because she recognizes that good men can still do awful things in times of war.  I felt like she brushed their actions off because she was hot for the guys.  *If he makes my vagina tingle, why, he can’t be bad.*  (Take it from me sister, that is so not the case.)

 I don't think that McKenzie sees the two men as people - just different variations of some adolescent fantasy. McKenzie is callow in her emotions and loose with her loyalty.  I couldn’t trust the choices she made because they were not grounded in any real thought or emotions.  She is woefully naive.  Her idea of what is right & wrong is superficially based, without any moral conviction standing behind them.  The story itself is not bad but the heroine is annoying.  And the most interesting aspect - the shadow reading - made too few appearances.



Where'd I Get It:  from

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