Review: The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis

Series: A Dance of Dragons #1
Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1494900092
ISBN 13: 9781494900090
Published: Jan 2014
Pages: 292
Format reviewed: mobi for SPFBB 2016
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Two out of Five

Like my previous review, this was read for the final round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 hosted by Mark Lawrence, more of which can be read here.

In this, we first meet Jinji, a 16yo who still mourns the loss of her twin brother but is about to become another step closer to being the leader of the Arpapajo tribe by marrying a close friend, a warrior called Maniuk. However, everything goes terribly wrong when dark magic wipes out every single person of her tribe, leaving her all alone. To make matters worse, that magic inhabited Maniuk to do so.

Then we meet Rhen, a young prince. He seems to hate royal life (so tries to throw everyone off the scene by appearing to be the type who beds women and disappears often) and often masquerades as a common villager so he can travel in peace and seek information that would otherwise be kept from him. He’s travelling when we first meet him, and it’s through that travel that he meets Jinji, and from there on they partner up – apparently their individual quests match up, however it’s unfortunate that although we start with Jinji it seems that from here on in, Rhen’s plot takes over.

This novel contains the usual tropes one would expect – prince wants to hide he’s a prince, and young woman travels as a man. They keep some things from each other in a way where they narrowly don’t immediately discover and hijinx ensue. As I’ve said in a previous review for this challenge, it doesn’t matter if we see the same tropes over and over, as long as the author does them well, which, sadly, didn’t hit the mark for me.

My main issue with this novel simply comes down to writing ability. We’re often told of their anguish or conflict when it’s otherwise obvious from the events, and from the start the tone seems childish – Jinji’s interactions with her best friend seem stilted and like they’re moving through blocking on a movie set. The book could use a strong edit, for flow as well as minor spelling errors and inconsistencies. The magic structure in this novel didn’t feel real or reliable. It often seemed to be an efficient answer for certain things to happen, rather than having its limitations and feeling like a force upon itself. The plot, too, left a similar impression on me. This is fine sometimes as I mainly read for character and I can forgive a lot (or often don’t notice!) if the plot isn’t one of the stronger elements… And in general, I think the author needs to do some research on what accurate travelling time/terrain would exist, and how villages would have first been created and therefore, what natural supplies would they have (gold alone doesn’t happen for a reason in the real world after all).

On the good side, the voice of the characters themselves is what gives both of them the majority of their sense of self, and the chapters shifting POV focus were handled well, when often it’s easy for it to seem clumsy – that wasn’t the case here. The tone of the novel however seems to be mainly aimed at middle grade, when it’s supposed to be YA (and also said to be like Game of Thrones, which in itself does a disservice to the book).

The strongest elements were Jinji herself, and the culture of her people – if everything in the book felt as fleshed out as this then we could have had a very strong novel indeed. Instead, they are all wiped out early and through the rest of the book we see quite a narrow slice of their world and its inhabitants and it feels like the rest hasn’t been created yet. The only other culture we see in the novel is of the antagonists, which is unfortunate. Nearly everything about Rhen is problematic and my review has already been harsh enough without stepping near that landmine…

Overall, I wanted to like this book. In reality, it felt like a wander through a single path decorated by cardboard cut-outs, and even from there a lot of them would have been blown over.

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