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Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima
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(Originally reviewed at thelibraryladies.com.)

I told Kate that I was struggling with how to start off this review because I have noticed a trend in my own reviews: nit-picky focusing on covers! I mean, the fact that I devoted time to griping about this cover in the limited word count available for our little features in “Highlights” posts…and then STILL want to rant about it more here? But I will resist, so please refer to our “April Highlights” post for my thoughts on this travesty.

“Shadowcaster” is the second book in Cinda Williams Chima’s “Shattered Realms” series that takes place a generation later in her “Grey Wolf Throne” world. I struggled with the first one, feeling that the characters were less interesting than the original cast and that the romance was a bad example of insta-love. So going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Which, as it turns out, was the appropriate approach as, in many ways, this is almost a second beginning to the series. We’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters and a timeline that is largely running alongside the events of the first book. There were still aspects of the series that I am struggling with, but I did find myself enjoying this book more than the first (a bit of a trend, I’ve found with this author, as I had the same experience with her first series in this world.)

This time around, our two main characters (though there are several others with POV chapters, including a few from Jenna, a character from the first book) are Lyss, the reluctant heir to the Grey Wolf Throne, and an Ardenian captain, Halston, who after being capture by the enemy begins to learn more about the other side of this war and story.

First off, I think the main reason I enjoyed this book more than the first was the fact that I enjoyed both of these main characters more. Lyss especially was very fleshed out and well drawn. Her struggles with identity and with her relationship with the queen, her mother, are thoroughly explored throughout the course of the story. After her sister’s death, a sister who Lyss and the entire country revered as the ideal princess heir, Lyss finds herself in the impossible role of needing to fill those shoes. Further, her own talents for warfare and military strategy, combined with her physical fighting prowess, call her to a role of action. Throughout the years, she has gained respect and acumen for her success in the war against Arden, but whenever she returns home, the duties of ruling chafe, especially given her penchant for frank and perhaps less diplomatic language and ideas. All of this, plus the shared loss of all their family (or so Lyss believes, not knowing as we do that her brother lives) creates an ongoing tension point in her relationship with Raisa, the queen. Lyss was a brilliant character, and her journey throughout the book neatly tied the plot’s action to Lyss’s own growth and challenges.

Halston received less page time, but he too was a compelling character. Throughout the story, Halston’s story makes it clear how difficult life in Arden is. Politics is tangled around every aspect of life, with the fear of angering the cruel king tinging every decisions. After being captured by Lyss and her troops, Halston begins to see the falsehoods that have been spread by the King about the war and the northern country with whom they fight. However, loyalty and a fierce desire to protect his family must drive his every decision.

One of my primary concerns with the first book was the insta-love relationship that seemingly evolved out of nowhere. With that in mind, I was extremely pleased to see the more developed and extended relationship that was drawn between Lyss and Halston. Both characters are given the proper amount of time and shared experiences to make a budding relationship between the two enemies believable. I was much more invested in this relationship than I ever was with Jenna/Ash.

While Ash was referenced in this book, only Jenna had page time out of the original characters. Ultimately, while I did like elements of her chapters, especially now that we have her dragon pal to appreciate, I did question these inclusions. Her story line felt largely separate from the rest of the action and her reference to Ash only reminded me how much I disliked that relationship from the first book. There were a few plot points that were introduced and helpful to driving the larger story line crossing between books, but these chapters were so few and so disconnected from our main characters and plot that I question there inclusion.

Adding to all of these POVS is another, fourth perspective from a young man who has a mysterious gem or mage mark on the back of neck similar to Jenna’s. His role is more important to the driving factors in this story, and as a character I found his story and history interesting.

However, all of this highlights my biggest concern with this book and now the series as a whole. There are so many characters! The first book had around 4 POVs if I remember correctly, and this one introduced another 3. It was obvious in the first book that certain narrators were stronger than others, and the rushed elements of the book (the romance, specifically) I directly attributed to the choice to include so many. There is simply not enough page time in an already lengthy book to fully develop this many characters and their relationships with each other. So, here, we are given even more characters. And while I liked the main characters in this story more than I did those in the first, this just presents me with more concerns. Even in this book I found myself skimming through characters’ chapters (specifically Jenna’s) to get back to Hal and Lyss. What’s going to happen going forward when they all need to share page time together? I don’t want to lose the awesomeness of Lyss, for the less interesting Ash. Or, even worse, focus on the shallow Jenna/Ash relationship at the expense of Lyss/Hal.

While I enjoyed this book more than first, largely due to the strength of its main characters, I came out of the reading experience even more worried about the direction of the series as a whole than I did in the first. After that book, I had hoped that my concerns would be addressed by spending more time with Jenna/Ash so that I could get more on board with these characters and see their relationship flesh itself out further from its unfortunately rapid beginning. But now not only is that not the case, but I’ve been given character alternatives whom I enjoy even more and who are ultimately will have to give up their page time and stories to these originals. Not only do I not know how all of these characters will be given their due in a limited number of pages left in the series, but I now have a strong bias for/against a few of them. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, fingers crossed. ( )
  thelibraryladies | Sep 15, 2017 |
SHADOWCASTER is the sequel to FLAMECASTER and follows a different set of characters as they fight a war that has gone on for at least twenty-five years. Lyss is the heir to the Queendom but is much more comfortable in her role as Captain Gray leading her troops in the army. She has lost her older sister, father, and older brother to the fighting and is her mother's only surviving child. She has come to believe that the war will never be done unless they take the fight onto the enemy's soil.

Captain Hal Matelon is one of the king of Arden's soldiers. However, since his father is one of the King's Thanes and in a conflict with the king, Hal finds himself leading troops on what is essentially a suicide mission. While the king won't kill him outright, he doesn't hesitate to put Hal in situations where the enemy will do it for him.

Breon is a young, leaf-addicted musician who has no memory of his life before the age of ten. When his handle gets him a gig using his magical talent to lure a girlie into the hands of a shy suitor, Breon finds himself inadvertently luring Lyss into an ambush which is designed to lead to her assassination. Breon's magemark on the back of his neck makes him a target for more than Lyss's forces.

Lyss survives which adds to her desire to take the fight into Arden. Breon flees but is eventually captured by Lyss's allies. Hal is also captured by Lyss when she takes the town in Arden he was sent to subdue. Lyss and Hal fall in love but it is a Romeo and Juliet sort of business. They are enemies from different countries. He doesn't know she's the heir to the throne, And he wants to escape to try to find out what has happened to his mother and sister who have come under the control of the king of Arden.

The story also gave us a cameo appearance by Jenna and her dragon Flamecaster who were major characters in the first book. This was a great story but with a major cliffhanger ending. Checking Chima's website lets me know that this is book 2 of 4. I can't wait to know what happens next. ( )
1 vote kmartin802 | Mar 4, 2017 |
This book was amazing I read it twice in the period of 3 days. Chima uses genius problems, amazing twists that you'll never see coming. As well as defined characters that will draw you in. ( )
  Daniel.Summoneer | Nov 6, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062380974, Hardcover)

A LIFELONG WAR

Alyssa ana’Raisa is the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of the Fells, a queendom embroiled in a seemingly endless war. Hardened by too many losses, Lyss is more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, she goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn’t pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne.

A LIFE IN PERIL

Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon has been fighting for his king since he was a lýtling. Lately, though, he finds himself sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death. 

THE SHADOW OF DEFEAT

Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series, this is a thrilling story of the unfathomable costs of war, the allure of dark magic, and two principled and conflicted characters drawn together despite everything they stand to lose.

A warrior PRINCESS, fighting to end an endless WAR. A young SOLDIER who hates to lose, defeated and TRAPPED behind enemy lines. A musician whose SONGS have the power to ENSNARE.

Follow these young fighters as they fall under the shadow of a new enemy—a force that threatens to extinguish every last ray of light in the Shattered Realms.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 29 Jul 2016 19:02:15 -0400)

From New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima, this is a thrilling story of the unfathomable costs of war, the allure of dark magic, and two principled and conflicted characters drawn together despite everything they stand to lose. Alyssa ana'Raisa, the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of the Fells, feels more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, Lyss goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn't pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne. Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon is being sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death. Lyss and Hal's intricately linked fates become inseparable when they fall under the shadow of a new enemy, a force that threatens to extinguish the last rays of hope in the Shattered Realms… (more)

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