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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Author:  Sandy Williams
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
          The Shadow Reader (10/2011)
          The Shattered Dark (10/2012)
          The Sharpest Blade (12/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 1/22/14 to include a review of The Sharpest Blade, the third and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2.

            NOVEL 3:  The Sharpest Blade            
     In this final book of the trilogy, McKenzie and Kyol are trying to get used to their life-bond, but they're having a rough time of it. Each can feel the other's emotions, so Kyol is constantly aware of McKenzie's deep love for Aren, and McKenzie can always feel Kyol's emotions, both when he is in danger and when he grieves that she no longer loves him. A side effect of the bond is that the two are sharing some powers: McKenzie has acquired some of Kyol's fighting skills and strength, and Kyol has developed McKenzie's ability to see through fae illusions.

     As the story begins, Lena and her supporters have enemies on three fronts:
     1. the human vigilantes, who are selling the sight serum online and who are still trying to kill all fae; 

     2. Caelor and the remnants (former Court Fae), who want to take the crown away from Lena because she won't execute Aren (Caelor believes that Aren is the king-killerthe warrior who killed King Atroth, and Aren is also responsible for destroying the magic of Caelor's lover)

     3. the False Blood pretender to the throne and his minions (the elari), who have gathered a powerful army and are beginning to sway the general public in their favor. 

     The False Blood is particularly anxious to kill both Lena and McKenzie, and his warriors pursue them throughout the story. At the same time, McKenzie finds herself caught between Kyol and Aren in a no-win situation. Aren has distanced himself from McKenzie, telling her that the bond is sacred in fae culture and is impossible to overcome or break. He believes that he should leave her in order to save her from further emotional pain. Meanwhile, Kyol is wracked by guilt because he is the one who put the bond in place. He feels intensely guilty for interfering with McKenzie's romance with Aren, but believes that the bond was the only way he could have saved her life (plus, he still loves her). This sad romantic situation continues until the very end of the book when it is finally resolved in a satisfactory manner.

     Meanwhile, McKenzie comes to the realization that even though she wants a normal human life, she doesn't really want to turn her back on the fae. She must make a decision: Will she stay on Earth full time, or will she join Lena's forces full time. It's pretty easy to figure out which choice she will make.

     The plot moves along with compelling action and increasing suspense as  the bad guys make some power plays, and McKenzie makes some difficult decisions involving Lena, Aren, and Kyol. At one point, she is forced to make a choice about which one's life she will save. When McKenzie finally discovers the true identity of the Falseblood, she has a horrific flashback when she realizes that he has a connection to a painful incident in her past. As the climactic showdown scenes play out (and there are several), the fates of a number of supporting characters are decidedand not always in a pleasant manner. In other words, you shouldn't expect all of the good guys to make it through to the end.

     This book has much more of a plot than book 2 did. Although some of the battle scenes involve fissuring, those scenes do not dominate the story as they did in book 2. By the end of the book, all of the loose threads are woven together and/or tied off and the major questions are answered: Will Lena give up the identity of the king-killer? Will the remnants allow Lena to take the throne? Who is the False Blood? What will happen to the vigilantes? Who lives and who dies? With whom will McKenzie's achieve her HEA (and will she ever lose her virginity?). Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Sharpest Blade.

     This is a series with incredibly intricate world building and a well-devised story arc. The primary supernaturals in this world are the fae, who move between their Realm and mortal earth, but are unknown to most mortals. The few mortals who are aware of them are vigilantes, who are dedicated to the destruction of all fae as well as the humans who work with them. As the story opens, the fae king, Atroth, is attempting to put down a rebellion. One of his best weapons against the rebels is his human shadow reader (aka nalkin-shom), McKenzie Lewis, the 26-year-old virginal heroine of the series. McKenzie was born with the ability to track a fae's movements by reading the shadows as he or she fissuresthat is, teleports, or moves between dimensions. Here is McKenzie describing the shadow reading experience:
    "My shadow-readings always look like they're drawn by a schizophrenic....To a normal human, the final sketch probably looks like a kindergartner's drawing, but to a fae who hears me name a city or a region, it's as good as having an imprinted anchor-stone. Without an anchor-stone or a shadow-reader naming the location on his or her map, fae can only fissure to places they've memorized. It's sort of like humans and phone numbers: they can remember dozens upon dozens of locations, but if they don't think about them often or dial in on occasion, they tend to forget them completely." (pp. 47-48)

     McKenzie can also see through fae illusions. For example, even if a fae enemy soldier makes himself invisible to other fae, McKenzie can see him and can alert the good guys as to his location. McKenzie's main problem in book 1 is determining just who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  

     Click HERE to go to a the author's "Fae to English Dictionary," a brief glossary of fae terms used in the series.

     If you love to read about love triangles among the fae, I highly recommend Seanan McGuire's excellent OCTOBER DAYE series. Toby Daye is a true urban fantasy heroine, with top-notch fighting skills and plenty of street cred. Click HERE to read my review of that series.

            NOVEL 1:  The Shadow  Reader            
     As the first book opens, McKenzie is kidnapped by the rebels because they want to weaken Atroth's forces and because they hope to persuade her to turn against Atroth. For the past ten years, McKenzie has had a romantic (but not consummated) relationship with Kyol Taltrayn, Atroth's sword-master. They love one another, but the king has forbidden affairs between fae and mortals, and Kyol is such a man of honor that he refuses to be go against his king. The rebel leader is the sexy Aren Jorreb, and soon enough, sparks (literally) fly between Aren and McKenzie. In this world, when a fae and a human have skin-on-skin contact, the result is chaos lusters (aka edarratae), which are extremely pleasurable miniature lightning bolts that zigzag across the skin. So...very early on, we have a love trianglean Edward vs. Jacob situationthat isn't resolved until the very end of the book, although you can pretty much see which way things are going much sooner than that. Kyol and Aren are the typical flip-side boyfriends: with Kyol being the dark, brooding, serious one and Aren being the fierce, sardonic, blond one.

     Aren knows that McKenzie's biased beliefs about the rebels are the result of her brainwashing by Atroth and his court fae, and he is determined to make her understand his side of the story by teaching her the forbidden fae language and telling her the truth about events of the past and present. The story follows McKenzie as she is jerked back and forth from one side (and one man) to the other, never knowing quite what, or who, to believe. At times, McKenzie comes across as a strong and independent UF heroine, but at other times, she turns into a fragile female who must be rescued by one of her big, strong boyfriends. She definitely gets beat up, strangled, shot, and stabbed more than any other character in the story. The overall theme of the book deals with the fact that the truth is frequently hidden in gray areas that are difficult to see through. As Kyol and Aren each try to convince McKenzie that his side is the most righteous, truthful, and virtuous, McKenzie learns an agonizing lessonthat the "truths" she has always believed about the court and the rebels aren't as straightforward as she thought they were.

Here are the most important of the minor characters:
Lena Zarrack: fae; sister of Sethan, the man who hopes to take the throne away from Atroth 
Kelia: fae; daughter of a nobleman who falls in love with a former vigilante and joins the rebels
Naito: human: son of the leader of the vigilantes, now a rebel and the lover of Kelia
Lorn: fae; bondmate of Kelia, but only for her magic; a mercenary who deals with both sides and looks out for his own welfare, but has a good heart
Lord General Radath: fae; the villainous leader of the king's army who hates all humans and talks the king into allowing atrocities that kill humans and innocent fae as well as rebels
     I enjoyed this book tremendously, especially the well-constructed world building. Although McKenzie's character veered from strong to frail and back again, I still like her as a heroine. She doesn't have any fighting skills, but manages to defend herself in a pinch. The author tells the story in the first person from McKenzie's point of view, and she handles the first-person POV quite well. The characters of Kyol and Aren are well developed, and I could sympathize with both of them in their fight to win McKenzie's love. Both are good, if flawed, men, either of whom could make McKenzie happy. My favorite among the minor characters is Lorn, who comes across as a maverick (kind of like Bret Maverick), as he tries to cover up his heart of gold with a thick layer of con-artistry. This is definitely a series I'll keep following. Click HERE to read Chapter 1 of The Shadow Reader

            NOVEL 2:  The Shattered Dark            
     At this point in the series, Lena and her people have taken control of the Silver Palace, but they have not yet achieved total victory in the rebellion because the remnants of the former King's fae (the bad guys) are gathering in strength and numbers. McKenzie and Aren Jorreb are still together (although she's still a virgin), but they have seen each other only four times in the two weeks since the big battle in which Kyol Taltrayn killed the villainous King Atroth. The story line basically follows McKenzie as she puts her shadow reading skills to use by drawing the shadows when various remnant warriors fissure away. In this way, the rebels (the good guys) hope to figure out the location of the remnant leaders and their warriors. 

     As the remnants keep attacking, McKenzie learns that they have kidnapped her best friend, Paige. Eventually, McKenzie and Paige are reunited, but with disastrous results for both of them. As the book comes to a close, McKenzie is seriously injured (in yet another attack by the remnants), and Kyol makes a decision that saves her life but changes his life and the lives of McKenzie and Aren forever.

     I found this book to be much less of a page turner than book 1. For one thing, without a glossary of fae words and phrases, I sometimes had trouble remembering what the various made-up words meant in the context of the story. The author includes a brief glossary on her web page, but it would be nice if it were also included in the book. 

     Another problem: there isn't much of a summary of the key events of book 1, so I didn't always remember the details or the importance of various past events when characters made passing references to them. Another problem is the never-ending sequence of attack scenes, with the fae fissuring in and out while McKenzie huddles on the sidelines describing each of her friends' success (or lack of success) as they battle one after another of the remnants. 

     The first-person present point of view (e.g., "I open the blinds…," "I walk to my desk…," "I grab a suitcase…," "I look at Trev…") actually felt somewhat awkward in this book. The first person voice isn't easy to write, and this time around it doesn't flow quite as easily as it did in book one. I plan to read the next book mostly for the resolution of the love triangle, but I'm hoping that the conflict between the remnants and the rebels will prove to be more interesting and more complex than the repetitive fissuring battle scenes that overstuff this book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Shattered Dark.

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