Review: The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

Saturday, February 6, 2016
Title: The Shadow Queen
Author: C.J. Redwine
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Series: Ravenspire #1
Pages: 400
Published: expected February 16 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

I wanted to like this book so badly.... but like the other fantasy fairy-tale retelling out this month from Harper, this was a disappointment for me (though this fared better, overall, than Reign of Shadows).  Veteran YA author C.J. Redwine's The Shadow Queen had a strong beginning, a great antagonist, and some good ideas, but was also weighed down by infodumps, lagging sections of narrative, dull tone, and an uneven pace. This may be a case of an author's style just not working for me as a reader, because these are also issues I had after reading her debut, Defiance in 2012.

The world in The Shadow Queen has potential but the worldbuilding is either rendered in an infodump or not at all. Some aspects of the novel go into detail but others (how does one nation have shape-shifting abilities but none of the others? How are witches only in Morcant if they also participate in bridal treaties like the one between Irina and Ravenspire?) The details on the magic system are sparse --- there are chants and certain words but apparently some users have to study (as Irina says she did for years among "the black clans") but some users can just know what to do (like... Lorelai..). Needless to say, I didn't get any answers by the end.

The characters in this novel were decent, teenager-wise. The romance between the two main characters is as inevitable as it is obvious and predictable, but Redwine injects some chemistry to make their scenes and drama at least bearable. I won't say I cared about either character enough to ship it (tho Trugg/Jyn? Trugg/Kol?  I'd ship thaaat!) but it wasn't the worst YA romance I've read this month. Individually, Lorelai has some great moments and strengths but she's pretty broadly drawn. There's just not a lot of voice to this book and thus the long sections with Lorelai at the center drag down the pace and the entertainment value.

However, the adult characters in this are pretty excellent and well-defined. Irina is definitely the star of the 400-page show, but Gabril, a black man in a fantasy!, does a lot with his little amount of screentime. Irina is a great antagonist, and largely goes underused here; she's far more interesting to read about than Lorelai ever is. I do think her actions end were a tad disappointing for someone so cutthroat for the entirety of the story.

If this had been about 50 pages shorter, it would probably be a star higher in my rating. There's just too many pages it feels like a repetitive slog to get through in addition to the other issues that crop over The Shadow Queen's chapters. Lorelai and Kol make for two decent characters and the dragon angle, and the retelling adaptations it fresh and different. However, since this is the first of a series and the second novel from the author to not work for me, I don't think I will be reading on with the Ravenspire series.

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