Medium: ebook (336 pages in print)
Overview (No Spoilers):
As captivating as the original can be, I’ve always loved reading tale-as-old-as-time fairy tales that’ve been overhauled. I especially enjoy when authors offer more depth to characters such that there’s more of a gray area to things than initially interpreted. Whether the work of fiction is a retelling, an alternative viewpoint (of a friend or foe), a modernized version, a prequel, or extrapolating what happens next, I’m game to check it out! Princess of Shadows definitely fits within these criteria as this novel is a reimagining of a story from children’s literature, just take a look at the enchanting cover if you’d like to know which one it represents. In fact, the entire Fairy Tale Adventures series by A.G. Marshall takes well-known tales and paints them in a new light. And so, while a common fairy tale has lent the bassline for this piece (with grace notes of others accompanying it), Marshall has composed something totally new from the original pitch. That last line would be funnier if you knew Marshall is also a professional pianist.
Princess of Shadows (first published in September 2016) is about Evangelina Shadow-Storm, the person, not to be confused with Evangelina Shadow-Storm, the legend. Upon awakening from a sleeping curse, Lina finds that things are not as she left them and her personal history has been reduced to a children’s bedtime story. In actuality, Lina is a military-trained shadow warrior whose job, with the aid of light wielders, is to keep the kingdom safe from the creatures of darkness that lurk in the realm of shadows. With the beasts she worked so hard to lock away edging closer to freedom, she must find a way to warn the region’s Council of Kings. At the same time, Crown Prince Alaric of Aeonia is in the process of hosting a ‘Princess Test’ in hopes of finding a bride who’ll quell the conflict brewing beneath the surface regarding his family’s rise to power. This test provides the perfect cover for Lina to slip into the castle and complete her mission! What could possibly go wrong?
Nearly every character within this story is distinct, and their responses and actions to the predicaments that arise help to speed the story along. The leads are played by Alaric, a royal who puts what’s best for his country over his own interests, and Lina, a guardian struggling to fulfill her duty of rooting out danger while adjusting to the fact that the world as she knew it is gone. Since the narrative alternates the point of view each chapter between Lina and Alaric, it is abundantly clear to the reader how the interactions of these two are riddled with misunderstandings as a result of what’s left unsaid. It was endearing to see flashes of vulnerability in Lina and Alaric (within their own thoughts though, of course) as they seek to understand and support each other. As an aside, Stefan is delightful. He is the perfect amount of sarcasm and sass to balance Alaric’s stoicism. It was also great to see strong women, in addition to Lina, integrated into the story (even though some are stifled by their public personas).
I enjoyed piecing together the events that transpired while Lina was otherwise engaged. Perhaps limited by what Lina can do without proper tools and assistance, however, the magic system doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could be; it wasn’t as clear to me what the rules and limits are, and the reader really only has a chance to see one type of magic in fighting form. The writing contains a few errors, but is otherwise a clean and fun read full of heart. Considering the length of the original fairy tale (it’s shorter than this review), Marshall has done an impressive job using it as a basis to thread the story we find here. From the preview of Book 2 included in this copy of Princess of Shadows, Princess of Secrets appears to pick up where things leave off but focuses on new characters instead. Given the loose ends in Book 1, I’d be interested to see how different fairy tales will be tied together in this universe!
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):
- If Lina ‘wasn’t even a senior member of the special forces in [her] century’, why was she the one directly involved with the curse? And what causes her to wake up from it now?
- It’s interesting how the shadows have some control over Lina to lure her from the realm of light. When Lina’s in the realm of shadows, is her physical body able to rest and recharge like one does during sleep (assuming she doesn’t get into a fight in the realm of shadows)? Do the shadows have a stronger pull on her when she’s tired? Or is it just a night versus day thing?
- We’re told that Lina ‘had no power in the realm of shadows in the daytime.’ I can see how her shadow magic may not be as strong in the realm of shadows during the day, but to not work at all seems strange, especially since we know that light wielders can use light magic in the realm of light at night (that’s how they opened the vault in the archives with the help of the moon).
- At one point, Lina ‘cast a shadow bolt laced with truth magic’ at an enemy. Does Lina have any other magical specialties up her sleeve? Would they only work in the realm of shadows (because she has shadow magic)?
- Why hadn’t the magic in the emerald – I mean, pea – faded like the other gems in Lina’s headband? Is it based on the amount of magic stored in the gem? Do they have half-lives that the magic deteriorates by? Are enchanted gems created by infusing light and shadow magic into them? Can enchanted gems be used in the same way in the realm of light as the realm of shadows?
- Lina’s signet ring changes from white to red when creatures of darkness are in the vicinity. Does it only detect particular species, regardless of actual danger? What did it mean when ‘the ring glowed white and then flashed pink’? Something like this reminds me of a battery needing to be replaced. If Lina asked her ring to check for danger at the end of the story, what color would it show?
- I like how members of the royal family try to convince Alaric that deciding whom to marry should be ‘based on love instead of politics.’ What kinds of tests normally take place during a Princess Test? Does each country get to make up their own rules when hosting, or is the Princess Test common enough that they’ve standardized them?
- The arranged marriage between King Noam and his first wife brought East and West Aeonia back together, but why was Aeonia split after the war with King Thaddeus to begin with? Was one side sick of King Thaddeus ignoring his people and the other those who didn’t want change? Or pro-magic versus anti-magic?
- As for King Noam’s second wife, what has the evil Cassandra been up to since her banishment? Does she have anything to do with the King of Gaveron’s secret royal? Or why Nog seems to have a command over light magic and has been able to escape the seal?
- After Lina secures Nog behind the seal the first time, it ‘contained the sound and stench.’ So, how is she able to talk to Nog after she sends him back the second time? With Nog’s life saved, why aren’t they more concerned about him escaping again? How does Nog even break through the seal twice? Doesn’t his breakout mean that something must’ve happened to the seal in the realm of light as well? Did someone actually help him or did he figure it out on his own? How does Nog know about Luca and his pet name for Lina? Why doesn’t Nog bring other goblins through the seal with him?
- Ignoring the fact that technically Aeonia already has a member of the old royal family ruling it (with Marta as the Queen), who went to the King of Gaveron asking about the Aeonian throne? What proof does this person have to claim it? Is it someone from the Society of Evangelina?
- What will the Society of Evangelina do now that Lina is awake? How many members are in the Society? Have any of the other members besides the princes been working with light magic and shadow magic? Will the magic academies reopen in Aeonia now? Did Luca save any scrolls to help with training? Will Alaric become a true light wielder to protect Lina as Luca once did?
Mettle: vigor and strength of spirit or temperament