Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

Reign of Shadows by Sophie JordanReign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan (Reign of Shadows #1)

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: HarperTeen on February 9, 2016

Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Rating StarRating Star

My thanks to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

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.

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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.
With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadows is Sophie Jordan at her best.

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In case you haven’t seen it yet, this review was also posted over at Speculative Herald. Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to contribute!

Sophie Jordan’s REIGN OF SHADOWS is a riff on a familiar story: a young Princess spirited away to live in a tower encounters a bad boy with a heart of gold who spurs her on a quest to save herself and take back her Kingdom. But the Kingdom of Relhok is plagued by the Blackness, a mysterious eternal darkness that covers the land. And under the cover of this darkness, foul things like the dwellers have been unearthed. The dwellers are human sized insect-like creatures with creepy feelers on their faces that paralyze their victims so they can feast on their bodies; unsurprisingly, the fear of a dweller attack is strong and keeps Luna more or less trapped inside the tower.

Princess Luna lives in hiding with only her two guardians for company when a mysterious young man named Fowler happens upon their tower…changing her life forever. Luna and Fowler’s relationship develops quickly, which isn’t exactly surprising given that a) they’re keenly aware that they could be killed by dwellers or rogues at any time and b) the fact that Luna’s never met a boy before. Hell, if I’d been living in a tower for seventeen years and a hot guy stumbled into my path I’d probably go for him too!

Now I’m not ashamed to admit that I often enjoy books with a healthy number of clichés and tropes thrown in, but I expect authors to bring some originality to those clichés and tropes. Sadly, this is where Reign of Shadows fell flat for me. It has all the elements of a popular YA fantasy trilogy: a “strong” yet vulnerable heroine, a broody yet tender love interest, a kingdom at stake, and even a cute animal companion. But not a single one of these elements had that spark of originality to them.

Then again, it’s hard to write a new spin on an old fantasy trope when there’s little world building or character development to be seen. The only fantastical elements in Reign of Shadows are the eternal Blackness and the dwellers, but neither is explained. Why did the dwellers come to Relhok? Have they always been the size of people, or did the perpetual darkness change their biology somehow? And most importantly, how is it that any plants and animals (including humans) are alive at all when there’s no sunlight? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but something feels off there. I don’t expect my SFF to scientifically accurate,  but I do expect an explanation as to why certain implausible things are happening.

Despite the overall predictability of Reign of Shadows, there was one very interesting reveal that completely took me by surprise. All I’ll say about that is there’s a reason why Luna is largely unaffected by the perpetual darkness – and the reason plays a very important role later in the story. However, this aspect of Luna’s character fell prey to some problematic elements with representation, namely using this characteristic to increase her “special” status. Perhaps this will be remedied as the series progresses, but as it stands I was disappointed.

Sophie Jordan writes with short, abrupt sentences, which I think might have been an effort to convey the suddenness of the violence and change that people experience during the Blackness. Unfortunately this stylistic choice didn’t work for me, and the choppiness of the writing pulled me out of the story. But I think that’s just a matter of preference.

If the story sounds like something you’d enjoy, give Reign of Shadows a shot. I think some readers may love it, but personally I expected more from both the story and the writing. There were some good ideas here but unfortunately I thought they were poorly executed.

Have you read any books inspired by Rapunzel? Do you feel disappointed when an author has good ideas but doesn’t execute them as well as you feel they could have? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I think it is very safe to say I will not read this one. Thanks for saving me the experience (sorry you had to slog through it!) 🙂

    • I think that’s a good call, haha. Always happy to take one for the team! 🙂

  • I myself have had a run of bad luck with YA lately. I agree 100% with you on your comment about tropes. I enjoy my share of cliches too, but seriously authors, GET MORE CREATIVE. The “strong” yet vulnerable heroine falling in love with the brooding tender bad boy is the one I hate the most, and I 2-starred my last YA read because I am just so sick of seeing female characters sold short.

    • I’m finding YA extremely hit or miss these days: I either love it completely or I want to kill it with fire. It makes me mad that the phrase “brooding tender bad boy” can be used to describe so many of these one-note male YA characters, and all we get for the women is the “strong yet vulnerable” types that you describe. As if being strong somehow implies that you aren’t/shouldn’t be vulnerable. Gross.

  • THIS:

    “…it’s hard to write a new spin on an old fantasy trope when there’s little world building or character development to be seen. The only fantastical elements in Reign of Shadows are the eternal Blackness and the dwellers, but neither is explained.”

    Nothing was explained, and, I’m sorry . . . if you’re going to have creepy-feelers-on-their-head-people-sized insects, there had better be a good reason.

    • RIGHT? What the hell, seriously. I’m pretty good at rolling with the weirdness in SFF, but the dwellers really beggared belief. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that readers will never get a satisfactory explanation for them and their nasty feelers.

  • Wow, too bad. The cover is so PRETTY. YA is definitely hit or miss for me, and this one sounds like more of a miss. I am so tired of the usual tropes, but when I do encounter something original I get so excited:-) Hey, by the way, welcome to the Speculative Herald!!

    • Isn’t it, though? To be completely honest, the cover is 80% of the reason I requested it in the first place. Yes, that’s a great attitude to have! It is really exciting and gratifying to come across some originality with tropes. Thanks, Tammy! 😀

  • I’m with you on enjoying some cliches and tropes. There’s some that I rather enjoy reading. However, I’m kind of tired of several that are floating around the YA genre at the moment.

    I’m not a huge Rapunzel retelling fan. I don’t think I’ve ever read one before. I don’t think I’ll start with this one though. 😛

    • Oooh, now you’ve got me curious! Which tropes are you getting sick of? Unless they’re masterfully re-imagined, I’ve lost all patience for the special snowflake and the survivor girl tropes, personally.

      HA! Yes, I think you should probably steer clear. 😉

  • It sucks this book wasn’t for you, but that is the way it goes isn’t it? I completely agree about cliches being good if done in an original way. I have read plenty of books which leave you rolling your eyes at the cliches, but you keep reading because there is some original element which makes you forgive it and enjoy it.

    I think it’s worse when an author has a good idea and doesn’t do it justice in a book. It feels like such a massive let down, doesn’t it? You feel this strange sense of betrayal that they couldn’t do the idea justice. I know I shouldn’t take it so personally, it is only your personal opinion when you dislike a book, but even so, it bothers me.

    I may give this book a chance, but I wasn’t ridiculously excited anyway, and now I figure it’ll be a book I may pick up if it’s going cheap, but I won’t go out of my why to find it.

    • You can’t win ’em all, and I knew from almost the first page that this one wouldn’t be a winner for me. YES, I know exactly what you mean! I will forgive an awful lot of cheesiness and cliches if the characters are dynamic and lovable.

      That’s kind of how I feel about all these “idea farm” authors out there. The people who get paid to think up ideas, attach their names to them, and then have ghost writers do the actual work. Those ghost writers are being exploited and they’re not given the credit they deserve. I’m looking at you, James Frey!!

      Good call. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a 2.99 or 1.99 on Kindle within the next few months; YA fantasies often go on sale in ebook format. I hope you enjoy it more than I did, Becky!

      • God, imagine if you could like every book you read? I can’t decide if it would be good, or if it would get really boring.

        And I think the idea farm authors are worse in a lot of ways because it means they’re not being original. I know you can be inspired by other people’s ideas, but only when it comes naturally.

        You’re so right, I tend to wait for YA fantasies to go down in price when I’m unsure about them. I don’t feel guilty if I don’t like it then. We’ll see how it goes, I may found it really good. I am very easy to please, at times.

  • Lynn Williams

    Yep, I enjoy a good book of cliches and tropes too – just so long as they don’t annoy the socks off me! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one and I won’t be picking it up!
    Lynn 😀

    • I think all of us are in agreement on that one – nothing wrong with some cliches and tropes so long as there’s some effort put into them! There are lots of YA novels out there waiting to be discovered (and enjoyed) so better to spend your time there, I think. 🙂

  • I really love the cover, but I have read a lot of disappointed reviews so I think I’ll skip until I find a library copy of this (and also I need to pay my library fines first, omg).

    There are times when I eat the cliche up with a spoon e.g. Red Queen – but a lot of the debut releases have fallen flat and melded into one in my mind lately.

    • Isn’t it gorgeous? Kind of makes you wonder what some authors have done to deserve the truly terrible cover art they get stuck with (i.e. Richelle Mead and Ilona Andrews) since they’re good writers and bestsellers. So odd!

      LOL library fines…the worst. Thank god I work at the library (staff don’t get fines) or I would be broke.

      I agree – I think the two things that save it for me are really interesting, nuanced MCs and really well done romances. I’m reading Truthwitch right now and while I find Safi kind of annoying, I ADORE Iseult and I’m loving the dark romance vibes she’s got going on with you know who. Bring on the cliches if they come with that! 😀