Book Review

The Shadow Kingdom (The Shadow Curse Series #1) by C.J. Inkson

***Huge thank you goes out to Net Galley for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review***

Happy first book review of 2019! How is it that I already feel behind in accomplishing my book reading goals for this year? But at the very least I get to kick off this reading season with not only a fantasy novel, but one I actually enjoyed!

No, The Shadow Kingdom by C.J. Inskon isn’t perfect, but what it gets right is pretty spectacular. The synopsis and idea behind the story is what draws many in. Heck it’s what drew me in and though the details are murky and jumbled especially when it comes to the magic system, had these things been addressed I think the book would have been even greater. From here I think the only thing the author can do is push forward with the series and hopefully fill in those details and small plot holes in order for the series to end on a high note.

Elliott West – She is the current in a long line of Watchers. Her family are the ones who stand on top of a lighthouse facing an ocean canal called the barrier strait that leads to the Kingdom of the Shadow Lands; a place were a curse is said to have fallen causing all color to be drained from the world. Plants, animals, people, nothing has color. This supposedly happened over three hundred years ago and the fear still is that someone from the Shadow Kingdom will attempt to get to Elliott’s world of color, presumably causing the curse to spread and her job is to basically sound the alarm if that should happen. Yet, in those three hundred years no one has tried.

GOOD POINT: I like that the first setting we see is a pseudo modern world. Though the place is clearly made up by Inkson, we can assign our own version of our own modern world on top of it, which is a nice way of making it relatable.

Despite the fact that her family’s job has become obsolete, Elliott or Eli, insists that she will be the next Watcher while her friends leave their small town to go to college; onto bigger and better things allegedly. While having a sort of mini reunion with said friends Eli is kidnapped by a clan of Thor people from the Shadow Kingdom (The clan names in this book are not easy to pronounce or spell so I’m just going to do my best) who believe her to be blessed by the color gods and they believe she can restore their color. They want to eat her basically.

This is where the story introduces the reader to a dark and mysterious, yet strangely staggeringly attractive man like character. His name is Tren and for reasons it seems he’s not even fully aware of, he helps Eli escape the Thor people. They manage to get to the next town of Yrike, I believe that’s what it’s called. Anyway, Tren has them stay in a seemingly abandoned cottage at the edge of the city and then promptly disappears to run “errands” leaving Eli to her own devices. But before he leaves he makes a hard demand that she remain inside the cottage until he returns. Of course because we want to see Eli as a strong character she refuses to listen and leaves the cottage.

GOOD POINT: I am glad Inkson tried to make Eli strong. However, to me she came off as more whiny and like a brat at times. Granted I fully supported her leaving that cottage because dude was gone all day and he gave her zero information as to what was happening. Trust for a stranger only goes so far my dude even if you did help her escape. Anyway, I think Eli’s character needed some tweaking, but I can appreciate what Inkson was trying to accomplish with her.

Of course because she steps a single freaking foot outside she is immediately kidnapped by a guy who I assume is a disgraced cop trying to prove himself still capable even though it is clear he is waaaaaay past his prime. Eli is delivered to the Duke. According to the ant size amount of information Tren was willing to share we understand the Duke to “not be a nice guy” when in reality, he’s simply an opportunist. I mean lets be real, he seized his moment and in a way got a nice deal out of the interaction.

Tren and Eli bumble along through the foreign terrain getting captured yet again, this time by a Brazilian like clan of people. We don’t ever learn what they would have done to them, the implication is of course death, but we really don’t know. This is because the Thor clan miraculously catches up to them and attacks the Brazilians in order to get Eli back. They manage that for a while until the Brazilians retaliate and Eli is able to crawl away only to be stopped by one of the Brazilians and gets stabbed. I presume the idea is this was going to be the outcome even if the Thor people never showed up, but I don’t buy it. The guy was pissed because they had nabbed these people that lead this other clan to attack them. I’d want to stab her too.

She ex machinas her way out of that predicament by being saved by yet another clan, this one of magicians. She asks about Tren and they say she is the only one they found, but he’s more than likely alive because he is a Mimir (Basically he’s hard to kill). This is enough of a reason for her to declare that she alone will go back into Brazil and rescue him.

GOOD POINT: I liked that she was willing to go back and rescue Tren. This alone showed that Eli was a strong character. But then I felt the author spoiled that by having her whine during basically all of her solo adventure and then wait four days, yeah FOUR DAYS, to actually go into the camp and get Tren’s butt out of there. Come on Eli, that was ridiculous and such a waste of time! You said you wanted to get home as quickly as possible, how did this help you?

Another side quest happens that really served no purpose other than to set up the romance between Eli and Tren. The beginning of the book teeters on the brink of this, but doesn’t come crashing down with full force until this moment. It was lack luster in my opinion. If you are going to pen the trope of insta-love you may as well go whole hog. Yeah, they’ve known each other longer than most YA couples (A whole two weeks!) but still, you either have a nice slow burn or you do a sleazy lust fest, when your story lands somewhere in the middle it can become stilted with no excitement or tension. This is what I felt when I realized that was where the love story was headed.

They reach their destination (finally) and low and behold [SPOILER] Tren was lying the entire time. I knew this pretty early on, but I thought “all right, lets have fun and give him the benefit of the doubt” nope. Though his reasons are honorable, he still pretty much sells her to the highest bidder (as she loving puts it) while he is haggling the price for her. This results in heartbreak of the weakest kind.

I felt for her, but the way she reacted was strange to me. She didn’t act like a woman betrayed by her true love, but instead acted like a teenager who realized that her crush asked someone else to prom when she was certain he was going to ask her. It didn’t ring true as a “true love” situation. Granted, I’m just speculating, but I get the feeling Inkson was wanting readers to buy into Eli and Tren being really in love. It was hard to feel that fully the way it was presented.

Once Tren gets what he wants, he leaves and she is now the Queen’s prisoner, but wait! Suddenly her two best friends (you know the ones I mentioned way in the beginning of this? yeah those two) they magically show up having learned the ins and outs of this foreign land easy peasy and rescue Eli. I’m glad that Inkson established that these two characters went off to college otherwise I would have no choice but to label Eli a simple country bumpkin who couldn’t handle anything new. And this is the cliff hanger we end on.

As far as the writing, it was solid and I enjoyed where the story could potentially go. Despite my lack of enthusiasm of the characters I didn’t not like them. I just think they can definitely be improved upon. For example, it is possible for a male character to come across as mysterious, but not hold back vital information in order for the female to fully understand her situation. I realize he ends up betraying her, but there were things that would have been alright to tell her so as not to have her go bumbling around and getting kidnapped all the time. At what point do you just give in and tell her certain things? Come on man.

I’ve already expressed my issues with Eli.

The other thing that was hard to ignore. The blatant lack of consistency with the setting and magic system Inkson created. I realize these are the author’s creations, but having things flow is important for believability.  If your world is devoid of color, you can’t see the silver or gold of the walls, so you won’t be able to tell that that is what they are. You can’t see beautiful light hitting off of anything because all there is is white and black and sometimes shadow. Black absorbs light and if any light hit the white bits, you would be blind. And then the author straight up says that something is silver. I get that gray could exist here, but not silver. Nope.

As for the magical system, that was all over the place. There is magic, but it is only used by magicians and Mimirs (as far as we know). One taps into something called the wellspring, which we learn is where the curse is from, and the other uses runes. Since the magicians weren’t a big part of this novel, their magic didn’t get toyed with as much, but oh my goodness, the runes. I felt like whenever Inkson needed something a certain way she just invented a new rune for it. I get it, it’s easy to do that, but oh so lazy and sloppy too. The cloak thing really bothered me and it really didn’t make sense either.

I think these are things that would have been and should have been easily caught by an editor or even a beta reader. I think the next time around Inkson should have someone read it and just ask, “if there’s no color how does this work?” until all those flaws are fixed. And I think it would be best to draft an outline of the magic system so as not to make your readers confused about the parameters.

In the end I actually did like this book and I fully intend to see where the series goes.

BAD POINT: How can you live in a world without purple!?

4 Out of 5 Stars

You Should Also Read:

Book Review: Remember Me by D.E. White

Book Review: I’ve Got This Round: More Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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