When she isn’t busy being a college student (and sometimes when she is), McKenzie Lewis works for the fae king. She’s a shadow reader, a human who can track the shadow imprints left behind when a fae teleports. Recruited as a teenager by the duty-driven sword master Kyol, while McKenzie can’t imagine her life without fae in it her employment has come at a cost. Besides missing college exams and having a normal, human social life, her parents have abandoned her after too many unexplained disappearances. Another unforeseen toll is her undying, ten-years-and-still-going-strong crush on Kyol. It’s not that the feelings aren’t reciprocated, but that fae are forbidden to have relationships with humans and principled Kyol would never cross that line. Just when McKenzie has determined to forget Kyol and plant both feet squarely in her human life, she is captured by the dashing rebel leader Aren. Becoming more acquainted with both the rebels and the secrets the court fae have kept from her, suddenly things aren’t so black and white, and McKenzie must decide whom to trust and whom to choose in the midst of a deathly fae civil war.
Admittedly I don’t read many urban fantasies but that doesn’t mean I’m a not a fan of the genre. The series I do read, I’m fiercely loyal in my love of and dedication to them. Naturally I’m always (albeit passively) on the lookout for the next UF ‘it’ book, and when I started hearing some buzz about The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams, I knew I had to give it a try, notwithstanding this review from a discerning blogger, which completely sold me.
Dropped directly into the fray of a rebel attack, we get an unedited glimpse into McKenzie’s life as a shadow reader from page one. While the fast pace set doesn’t really abate, it is exciting and welcome, leaving brief lulls to become acquainted with the characters. McKenzie is a great anti-UF heroine; as her talent is shadow reading she has little experience with weapons or hand-to-hand combat. What she lacks in fighting she compensates for in her daring courage and quick footing. I like the parallel Realm and the politics and abilities of the fae in it, which is easy to understand yet has enough complexity and depth to keep it fresh and interesting. That the court/rebel fae conflict is actually grayer than it appears rings true to life. It’s no secret that there’s a love triangle, and I liked how the two men on opposing sides embody the muddiness of the court and rebel fae well. More of a feat though was that I loved both Kyol and Aren, who are each head-over-heels committed to McKenzie in their own way. They both also have great chemistry with McKenzie, which created some swooning, fanning-yourself exchanges. I may have had a harder time deciding whom to choose than McKenzie. Unfortunately I was left with some reservations regarding her choice for a number of reasons. While I found the concept of edarratae, or chaos lusters, the mini bolts of lightning that dance from fae to human skin in close contact an intriguing characteristic of the fae, I had some problems with it. Regardless of a human’s personal feelings for a fae, the sensastion is warm, pleasing, and even seductive and creates a lot of confusion for McKenzie when she’s first captured by Aren. For a relationship that already felt unrealistically fast in developing, it was difficult not to see Aren and McKenzie’s attraction as strictly physical from the get-go. And though they get to know one another better throughout the course of the novel, it never felt like enough of a sure foundation to make up for the lust at first sight start to their relationship. Despite my disappointment in the romance (a point on which I seem to be in the minority) on the strength of the world building and characters I’m interested in picking up the next book and would recommend the action-packed The Shadow Reader to urban fantasy fans as a noteworthy series debut.