Genres: Urban Fantasy
Series: Shadow Reader #1
Published by Ace, Penguin on October 25, 2011
Also by this author: The Sharpest Blade
Some humans can see the fae. McKenzie Lewis can track them, reading the shadows they leave behind. But somem shadows lead to danger. Others lead to lies.
A Houston college student trying to finish her degree, McKenzie has been working for the fae king for years, tracking vicious rebels who would claim the Realm. Her job isn’t her only secret. For just as long, she’s been in love with Kyol, the king’s sword-master—and relationships between humans and fae are forbidden.
But any hope for a normal life is shattered when she’s captured by Aren, the fierce and uncompromising rebel leader. He teaches her the forbidden fae language and tells her dark truths about the Court, all to persuade her to turn against the king. Time is running out, and as the fight starts to claim human lives, McKenzie has no choice but to decide once and for all whom to trust and where she ultimately stands in the face of a cataclysmic civil war.
I bought this book after seeing it got an honourable mention on Paul Allen’s list of the best paranormal/urban fantasy releases of 2011. I liked the look of his list so I thought it would be fun to fill in the gaps. I still have a long way to go to finish the list, especially since I haven’t started some of these series (and am way behind on others), but I’m determined to get through as much as I can.
The Shadow Reader is a phenomenal debut. Sandy Williams has created something amazing with this world and these characters. McKenzie is a scrappy heroine with a rare gift: the ability to figure out where the fae go when they “fissure” from one spot to another. For a few seconds, she’s able to draw their destination and, based on her knowledge of geography in our world and the fae realm, determine where the fae has gone. McKenzie’s been using her ability to help the fae king capture rebels since she was a teenager, making her a previous resource that the rebels are determined to remove from the king’s side, one way or another. This idea really sets The Shadow Reader apart from other books for me, because it’s a type of power I don’t remember reading about before. We don’t often see new ideas — just fantastic new takes on preexisting ones — and I found it very interesting. And this is just one part of the outstanding worldbuilding in the series!
McKenzie is a wonderful main character. Despite her gift, she just wants to be a normal person with a normal life, which is why she’s trying to get a university degree. I really liked this aspect of McKenzie’s personality — her desire to take care of herself and live a regular life. It shows how independent she wants to be, despite the fact that the king provides for her. On the other hand, though, McKenzie is incredibly dependent on Kyol, the king’s swordmaster and her forbidden love.
And this brings me to my favourite part of the novel: the romantic storyline. Sandy Williams has created an authentic and emotionally charged love triangle between Kyol, McKenzie, and Aren. Both of the guys are wonderful characters and you can completely understand why McKenzie is drawn to them: Kyol is her first love, he protects and cherishes her, he’s loyal and capable and strong, and Aren is new, charismatic, charming, and dedicated to his cause, and he wants McKenzie to have a full understanding of the fae world. Don’t get me wrong, both men have negative traits, too. Kyol, for example, hides his feelings for McKenzie because his friend, the king, has forbidden relationships between humans and fae. As for Aren, he meets McKenzie for the first time when he’s trying to kidnap her, which is not the most auspicious beginning for any type of relationship. But over the course of the novel, you can really see the push and pull as McKenzie tries to decide what side of the war — and what man — she wants to choose.
Although I was completely absorbed by the romantic part of the novel, the other plot lines are just as compelling. There are some really gripping action scenes, a host of well-developed secondary characters, and a lot of nuance in the writing. And the cover really fits the story, though I must warn you that McKenzie doesn’t actually run around with a katana.
The next book, The Shattered Dark, doesn’t come out until November so you all have plenty of time to get acquainted with McKenzie before her next adventure. For myself, I’m very much looking forward to what comes next.