Author: Sophie Jordan
Genre: fantasy, dystopian, retelling
Published: expected February 9 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.
But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.
With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.
My first novel from veteran YA and romance author Sophie Jordan, I came into this mix of dystopian and fantasy and retelling of Rapunzel both curious and excited to explore a new version of an old favorite. And what I found in these three hundredish pages was a mostly serviceable adaptation of the basics of the fairy-tale; it was recognizable both as a retelling and as a novel with its own characters and ideas. Not everything in the story completely worked and it wasn't the slam dunk I had hoped for, but bigger fans of dystopian-type fiction and quick and easy love stories will find more things to enjoy about Reign of Shadows.
The book starts off pretty well, and moves along quickly.... if you are capable of ignoring the common sense questions that inevitably come to mind about the worldbuilding and basic ecology of this world that Jordan has created. Questions about plant life, about sustainable farming, etc. in a world of almost no light? How do people perform basic jobs? How has humanity adapted with constant dark? Does everyone have night vision? What determines how long "midlight" lasts? Questions about anything in this world not named Relhok City? There are almost no answers provided over the course of the novel. There are no reasons for the seventeen years-long eclipse, either. You can either accept the lack of detail and go with the fast-paced story or... not.
If your suspension of disbelief is enough to encompass those issues and keep reading, then Reign of Shadows will probably be a bigger hit for you than it was for me. I enjoyed the book when I turned off my brain, but to me, a fantasy needs substantive worldbuilding to succeed. It also needs well-developed main characters and more of a presence from the antagonist. Especially if it is launching a series, like this one is doing. I just didn't find any evidence of that kind of detail here in the first book and it dropped my involvement with the entire storyline. It moved fast, there were genuine moments of tension buuuut... I lacked any kind of genuine investment in the plot and in the characters.
I did have some affection for Luna, the main character and for Fowler, her love interest and travel companion. She isn't the most defined character but she is memorable for a couple reasons. She has agency and drive, even if it is shown in the most predictable and expected ways. She longs for freedom and independence but is denied that for several reasons known to anyone who's read a Rapunzel retelling. I liked that Jordan didn't go the expected route with her MC. Luna doesn't have the advantages of Fowler but she isn't always the damsel waiting to be saved, either. Fowler bugged me for a few reasons (women are not "females" stop calling them such) but his character wasn't stagnant; he reveals more as time went by.
Reign of Shadows was an uneven beginning for this series. The worldbuilding is negligible, the characters are in need of more time and personal definition, and the romance is too quick to be wholly believed. The moments of originality or suspense (dark dwellers were a great new addition to the story) do help but the complete nonending caused half a star to drop from my rating. I don't think this is a series that I will be continuing, personally.