Title: The Shadows Between Us
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: ★★★ (3/5)
Description: Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:
1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.
No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.
But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?
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(Trigger Warnings: Murder, Attempted Murder, Poison, Violence)
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller is a YA fantasy novel that I received in a Fairyloot book box. It follows the main character Alessandra as she plots to woo the Shadow King and steal his throne out from under him. The book is a sinfully indulgent confessional in many ways. The author layers deception and intrigue like a mason laying bricks. There's a delicious secrecy surrounding every character and their intentions.
We as the reader are thrust into a book that explores the human nature of kill or be killed and survival of the fittest. There's always an ethical struggle between the book and the reader. We see some of the truest cases of moral ambiguity in the book. There is no good and bad, everything falls on a spectrum of the two.
Alessandra is a remarkably intelligent narrator. She is strategic in all she tackles, There is never an absent moment in her mind. She is calculating and capable, a deadly combination for anyone unfortunate enough to stand in her path. Her ambition drives both her and the story forward. Alessandra's motivations are pungently bitter to behold. They stray outside the Iines of what is deemed conventionally right and venture into immorality.
There's nothing timid about Alessandra. She knows what she wants and strives for it headfirst, no matter what obstacles stand in her way. At times, while possessing qualities that do make her an interesting character, Alessandra also feels one dimensional in her singular focus and personality. Alessandra has a mountain of an ego but she backs it up with action. She refuses to bow to the traditional.
She, Alessandra, is the perfect match of pitch-black oil to the Shadow King. The Shadow King, Kallias, is as mysterious to the reader as he is to the people he rules. His dark, slightly vague, powers exude through the entirety of the narrative. While his powers themselves are curious, the explanation behind them is rushed and lackluster.
I expected a book that would rely on more of the relationship between Alessandra and Kallias but I was underwhelmed. There's not immediate chemistry between them which I was expecting given the synopsis. It comes across a little stiff and forced initially. The moments shared by Alessandra and Kallias, meant to be the groundwork for the premise, are fleeting and forgettable. Their interactions are passable but not particularly engrossing or something the reader feels passionate about.
The supposed courtship, even when the relationship is meant to be blossoming, is stagnant at best. The progression of the relationship between Alessandra and Kallias isn't seamless. It goes from zero to one hundred in seconds.
The non-existent building of the relationship eventually evens out toward the end so it isn't quite as blindingly fast. There's considerably more chemistry by then but it slams into the reader with no subtlety. A relationship shared by Alessandra and Kallias doesn't ever develop authentically but it does level out the further into the story you get.
A handful of casual relationships outside of the one between Kallias and Alessandra are far more compelling. Certain scenes really display the connections formed by the characters, mostly through friendships as I never really got it from the romantic angle. The friendship dynamics were the most consistent throughout.
Actions of the characters dance along the edge of unjustifiable at many points. The characters aren't foolishly kind-hearted or naive. They are tactile and approach everything as a challenge. There is an underlying vain pettiness to most of their actions. It forces the reader to contemplate their own values as they can't help but be fond of the characters despite their sins.
It does all become a fumbling sequence as the author forces the characters into specific situations to advance the plot whether it's beneficial to the story or not. There's an oversimplified convenience to how things work out. I don't mind small coincidences for the sake of plot but the issue arises when it is relied on entirely without the author seemingly at least attempting to smooth out the transitions.
The plot doesn't progress naturally enough. It's like every advancement is forced. At times, it seems the author chooses the wrong place to pick up the narrative. The pacing never quite lines up. It always feels off-kilter and unbalanced. Often, the book repeatedly falls out of sync with the established rhythm.
The conflict is superficial at times but also entertaining. Subplots making up a portion of the book never pan out or succeed in catching the reader's attention. The mystery lying in the reader's peripheral is captivating if not indistinct. The world where the book is set is flimsy at best with very little unique world-building. There is an oddity of pointless information presented in an awkward manner.
While the book does confront many gender stereotypes which I appreciate, there is also a heavy dose of "I'm not like other girls" that occasionally falls flat. There is a strong message that does demonstrate the strong empowerment of women in specific instances, mainly at Alessandra's allowance. The female companionship between Alessandra and her peers lights up the drab setting.
As the story progresses, the reader becomes hesitantly optimistic about the outlook. The nearing of the end is when the book really takes shape. It begins to morph into an almost completely different, and more enjoyable, book.
The Shadows Between Us is a solid if not thin YA fantasy novel. One won't find themselves regretting the read, but rather finding bland contentment in it. The first half of the book in my opinion is where things drag. Once you reach the last 1/4 it's quite an exciting read - I just wish that was carried throughout.
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