Monday, 13 June 2016

'The Shadow Queen', by C.J. Redwine

Title: The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire #1)
Author(s): C.J. Redwine
Release Date: 3rd March 2016
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

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I really, really love fairy-tale retellings.

Snow White is one of my favorite fairy-tale characters.

So why didn't this book work?

From the get go, this is a very exposition heavy book. When building an entire new world for an audience that has no other way to experience and get to know it other than for the way you describe and present it in the text, exposition is almost unavoidable. So, when I encounter the scattered page or the random paragraphs that are evidently there to tell people how everything works, I usually take the information I need from it and dive back into the story.

Here it was almost impossible to do that, however, as there doesn't seem to be a page without a chunk of exposition. What made that even worse is that it is presented mostly through dialogue. If there is anyone that knows the rules and how the world works it is the characters that live in it, so making them talk to each other about, for example, how the magic works and the political aspects of their system of governance, becomes, more often than not, boring and most of all, unnatural. For a big part of the book I felt completely detached from the story because every time a character spoke, I couldn't help but imagine them looking straight at me from the page, holding a neon sign saying 'please pay attention to what I'm saying, it's definitely going to be important later'.

For a book that spends so much time establishing these aspects, I was expecting it to at least be a foolproof story, where every decision and step forward made sense and was completely understandable. Instead, there are constant inconsistencies and flaws in plotting that are worryingly evident. A prince and princess that have been in hiding for years suddenly wanting to publicly name themselves 'The Heirs', lives dependent on secrets that aren't easily kept, early justification for not facing the queen falling flat, shape-shifters that refuse to shift because of a treaty but a chapter later forget all about it and suffer no consequences, a princess being attacked by a dragon and not for a second remembering she met a shifter just days earlier... I could go on and on, unfortunately.

These moments stand on very thin legs of weak explanations, which are repeatedly used and dumbed-down as much as possible. It read as condescending to the audience, especially when it doesn't take much to poke holes through them. Taking into consideration this is a retelling of a very well known story and it doesn't deviate much from it at its core, this over-complication and establishment of the plot was in no way necessary.

Not everything was a negative, though, and I did manage to find things to enjoy in this book. The story is told through three different perspectives: Lorelai, the lost princess, Irina, the usurping queen, and Kai, the foreign shifting prince. I especially loved reading the POV of Irina, as the villain is not often given a voice in the story. It was also the voice that stood more uniquely away from the other two, and she was definitely a remarkable villain. If the entire book was from her point of view, I would gladly have suffered my way through another stockpile of exposition!

The aspect of shape shifting dragons was also a curious alteration to the original fairy tale, but one that seamlessly and smartly fits into its frame. Dragons are one of my favorite fantasy creatures and, regardless of how much I questioned the physical implications of the transformations back and forth, I still very much enjoyed the dynamics between the characters and the dichotomy of personalities between the human and dragon side of them (especially in one chapter which is written from the dragon perspective, which I absolutely loved!).

As for the main characters, the sibling bond between Lorelai and her brother was incredibly strong and well developed. In the lack of a father, the father figure they both find in the guard that saved their lives and ran away from his own family to keep them safe was an unexpected plus in my reading experience. The author definitely knows how to create layered and unique relationships between characters, and that was what provided most of my emotional response to this book.

There is also an incredibly amusing character that became one of my favorites, surprisingly so since they are not even human. Lorelai keeps a gyrfalcon, a bird that she saved through her magic and consequently created a mental bond with, and their conversations are absolutely to die for. I was rooting for that bird to survive throughout the book, and its humorous contributions definitely kept me going through the reading.

'The Shadow Queen' is an interesting take on the classical 'Snow White' tale, but it sins on its complete predictability. There is nothing surprising about this plot, and it makes for a slow, 'you-need-to-push-yourself-to-finish' read. As a lover of retellings I might have been expecting a lot more than what this book possibly had to give, so do reign in what you think you will be getting from this book. You might then end up absolutely loving it!


6 comments:

  1. I'm sorry you didn't really enjoy this one! Retellings aren't my favourite genre (I like them enough, but I've never really loved a retelling) so this book didn't appeal to me loads, but after reading you review and seeing your reaction on snapchat, I don't think this will be one I'm picking up anytime soon! I usually get to bored through info-dumps, but it's nice to hear that the villain has a POV, too. Lovely review!

    Denise | The Bibliolater

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    1. I fell in love with retellings after reading the 'Lunar Chronicles', they're still my favorite in the genre! If you haven't given that a go I would definitely recommend them :)

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  2. I'm sorry to see that you didn't enjoy this one that much! I've heard some mixed things about it but I've heard good things about Redwine's other novels.
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

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    1. I've never read anything else by her I think, but this wasn't bad enough to push me away from giving something else written by her another go. I hadn't heard anything but good things so that's why I was so surprised when I wasn't enjoying it!

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  3. Aw...I'm sorry this was a bit disappointing for you. :( It's always a shame when a book you're looking forward to doesn't meet your expectations. I can completely see where you're coming from though - slow pacing and originality isn't exactly my cup of tea either. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

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    1. Thank you! :) That's why I try and keep expectations contained but sometimes it's really hard. Sometimes I don't mind a slow pace if there's for example character development or world building going on, but otherwise it's just no.

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