Ok so this is pretty basic modern fantasy stuff. Hot babe? Yup. Giant weapon of some kind, preferably a sword? Oh yes. Determined 'strong woman' pose? God help me yes. Even down to her knee high riding boots there's really very little to put this apart from the thousands of other tough looking women (and girls) staring defiantly out at me from my bookshelf, daring me to just try and read them. But I kind of like this one. I don't know if it's the soft dreamlike colours, the magical whisps or even the fact that she's looking over her shoulder at us (despite the fact she has a bum like a zebra) it all seems to work together.
Mackenzie Lewis is a college student trying hard to finally complete her degree after so many years of retakes and make up essays. A degree that's been put on hold so many times that she's not even surprised when an invisible and heavily armed fae steps out of thin air and into the middle of her exam. Why would she be, when this has been a regular occurrence for the last ten years of her life. Because Mackenzie has the sight, a rare ability allowing humans to see the fae, but even rarer she can also read their shadows, imprints left behind when they phase between places. And it is this treasured skill, letting her pinpoint the exact location of retreating fae, that dragged her into the middle of a magical civil war ten years ago. Ten long years spent serving their King and harboring illegal feelings for his sword master Kyol. However this time when Kyol comes for her so do the entire rebel army and Mackenzie ends up in the clutches of the arrogant Aren, pretender to the crown and all round evil bad guy. Or at least that's what she'd always been taught at the King's court. But after some time as a political prisoner she starts to doubt everything she's ever been told about the rebellion, and especially about Aren.
Leader of the Pack
Ding, ding ding! We have another amazing debut people! It's true I looked in to it because I just couldn't really believe it was true, this is Ms Williams' very first published novel. And it's a stonker of a modern fantasy tale, which I enjoyed immensely.
The Shadow Reader manages to pull off that rare trick of plopping you right in the middle of the action at the very start and keeps you on tenterhooks while still dropping those little bits of important information so you know what the hell is going on. We start with Mackenzie trying to retake yet another final when all round honorable fae and magnificent hottie, Kyol, fissures in to the exam out of thin air and tells her the rebels are coming to kidnap her. What follows was one of the best opening scenes I've read all year, Ms Williams is a dab hand at writing good action that flows perfectly while you read. I loved the way she took the idea of how the fae phase in and out of our world using fissures and turned it into a brilliant method of attack and ambush, it brought a whole new level to the fighting.
""You must make it to the gate, Mackenzie. You must!"
Instinct screams for me to get inside the building, but I trust Kyol with my life, so I stop fighting and glance over my shoulder. Arrows still fly through the air. A few seconds after they leave the rebels' bows, they'll become visible to normal humans, so if a fae misses his target or doesn't hit a fissure, people will see the bolts embedded in trees or the ground or skidding across the cement. None of the student are reacting, though. The rebels are being careful.
I take a small step forward. Some of the Court fae have fissured to the rooftops to fight; others remain on the ground, darting in and out of their fissures in smooth defensive dances. They're drawing the rebels' attacks, but it's a long way to the gate. They'll tire before I get there. Some of them might die. Kyol might die.
"I'll be fine" he says, reading the concern in my expression. He cups my cheek in his hand. "As long as you're safe, I'll be fine.""The fissures are also where Mackenzie's much sought after skill comes in, she can see the shadows of wherever in the world a fae has phased, which means they can be tracked. A useful talent and the sole reason she is so hotly pursued by the rebels. I rather liked Mackenzie, she wasn't a physical fighter but she had this try or die attitude that was admirable. I also loved the way Ms Williams builds the reluctant relationship she develops with Aren, it was a big point in Mackenzie's favour that she continued to distrust and thwart Aren's plans regardless of her attraction to him. Likewise her willingness to except certain unwanted truths about her beloved fae Court when she is faced with them, it's always refreshing to find myself not yelling at a book because the heroine is being a total numpty.
In addition to the main three, The Shadow Reader is rife with lovable and fully fleshed out secondary characters and it's these guys that really help expand the feel of the book's world beyond Mackenzie's immediate thoughts (no mean feat in story told from the first person!). I throughly enjoyed the fae's politics and history and what makes them even more interesting is being treated to two different versions.
It's no bad thing that The Shadow Reader reminded me of one of my all time favorites, the Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin. I'm also extremely pleased that the story has a good solid ending, it's not left completely open but no annoying cliffhangers either, an all round satisfying read.