(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
GAME OF THRONES meets GRACELING in a new fantasy adventure by bestselling author Kaitlyn Davis. Told in alternating male and female perspectives, THE SHADOW SOUL has been hailed as “an amazing start to a new series that is going to have people of all ages wanting so much more.” (Happy Tails & Tales Reviews)
When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.
But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
Normally I’m extremely skeptical of any book hailed as similar to “Game of Thrones” or “Graceling” but to be compared to both in the same sentence? I was pretty skeptical. But I set that skepticism aside when I read the blurb because despite the overly aggrandizing opening the rest of it sounded pretty good. I will clear up one thing first: The Shadow Soul is not really like A Game of Thrones or Graceling. However, it is still a good story in its own right.
The thing that really stood out to me is Jinji, the female main character. She sees her whole tribe wiped out by the man she loves (who was possessed by what she calls the shadow) and then is nearly killed in an attack later. Thankfully, she’s saved by Rhen and thankfully for Rhen, she then saves his life in turn. Both of these characters get page time in their respective points of view. The chapters tend to alternate but it never really feels confusing since both of them have very, very different voices. Jinji is more reserved and quiet in part because that’s how she was raised but also because she’s still processing the grief associated with being the literal last member of your culture after seeing the others brutally wiped out. Rhen is more brash and loud but you can really tell he has the best interests of his family in his heart the whole time. Having them travel together was a good idea because it forced two very different personalities to get along, all the while holding back secrets from the other person. Jinji is hiding the fact that she is a girl while Rhen is hiding the fact that he’s actually a good guy, not the hedonistic playboy the kingdom seems to think he is.
The world-building was good but it never really had that wow factor. It was refreshing to see a Native American-like culture depicted, particularly since in the kingdom it is struggling against the ‘modernizing’ forces of invaders and the fact that its territory has been severely limited. And it was nice to see Jinji struggle to keep some of her traditions alive, even if the rest of the people in the kingdom frown upon her culture. Seeing Rhen’s reaction to some of her cultural practices was nice as well because it reveals that mixture of guilt he has for being a part of the family that committed an effective cultural genocide against her people but also the respect he has for those people. In essence, it reveals a lot of the modern attitudes toward native peoples and one of the great things about fantasy is that it can hold a mirror up to our own world for us to examine. My only real criticism about the world-building is that I would have liked the politics to be a little more subtle than “that other kingdom is jealous of us”. That is certainly a factor in many wars and in politics in general but it isn’t the only one as is really depicted in The Shadow Soul.
I must admit that despite all of the deserved praise of this book, there was one part that I had to struggle through immensely: the pacing. The plot itself was not bad even if it was a little predictable because Kaitlyn Davis used pretty familiar fantasy tropes. However, the pacing was brutal in the beginning. I don’t mind slow pacing but for some reason I really had to force myself to keep reading until the story really got going about 30% of the way in. It’s not that the plot it self was boring but rather that Davis just doesn’t have that flair for description that some authors have. Some authors could describe a peanut butter sandwich to you and it would be fascinating (see: M.J. Rose, Kristin Cashore, George R. R. Martin) but Davis’ longer descriptions were, well, boring. Her writing in general is excellent but I just wasn’t sucked into the story as I should have been, considering that there is quite a bit of action in the beginning. It’s hard to explain as you can tell from my rambling, but it felt like The Shadow Soul lacked excitement until about a third of the way in. After that it was pretty exciting and I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next, but the beginning was quite hard to get through.
So while the book has a great premise, decent enough world-building and vivid character, the beginning of it definitely lacks “oomph” (for lack of a better word). Would I recommend it to most fantasy-lovers? Probably because there were some interesting plot twists, particularly toward the end. But it’s getting past the beginning that is the real hurdle to reading this book. If you can get past the beginning, you’re in for a treat because the pacing significantly improves but if you aren’t one for sticking it out you’ll be sorely disappointed. By the end of the book you’ll be just as eager as I am to read the next book but the beginning, for whatever reason, was the hardest part of the book to read. It doesn’t lack action but it does lack excitement, if that makes any sense at all.
I give this book 3.5/5 stars.