The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis #SPFBO
The Shadow Soul is the first of my books for the final stage of the SPFBO. I confess that I’ve been prevaricating over this review, I finished the book over a week ago but my thoughts were a bit of a jumble. On the one hand I think this is a good story as far as action and adventure goes, albeit not one that I loved, and also, in fairness to the author, probably aimed at a much younger audience, but then I found myself with a number of niggles along the way. Anyway, a little about the book first.
We start off by making the acquaintance of Jinji on what is one of the most important days for a young female of the Arpapajo tribe. Jinji is about to go through a rite of passage during which she will pass from a child into womanhood and be partnered with a young warrior named Maniuk. No longer will her hair flow freely but instead remain permanently plaited as befits her new status. I must admit that I thought the opening scenes were really quite engaging. I enjoyed learning a little of the tribe and their rituals and Jinji is an honest and intriguing narrator. It was endearing to read her thoughts and concerns over whether she was really ready for such a big step. Unfortunately, on the same day, before Jinji (or the reader for that matter) has any more time for reflection, disaster strikes, a shadow falls over her home and her entire tribe and home is destroyed.
We also make the acquaintance of Rhen. Rhen is a young prince. As we meet up with him he seems to be running from his kingdom and making his way into the woods and further afield. Stories of unmarked ships seen off the coast and other rumours of unrest have spurred the Prince into action. He comes across the burnt village of the Arpapajo tribe and finds one survivor, barely alive, Jinji.
Now, what we gather as the story progresses to this stage is that both of the above named have magical abilities. Jinji’s magic basically enables her to create images that appear to be real. Rhen’s magic gives him an affinity with fire that draws him to naked flames and allows him to manipulate them. The next concept I really liked. It put me in mind of the story of the Prince and the pauper – well, not quite, but, similar(ish). Rhen has switched his attire so he no longer looks like a Prince and Jinji has created an image that portrays her as a young boy (in fact the brother who was so cruelly stolen from her family a few years ago). So, firstly, the two of them are in disguise, secondly they’re both hiding their magic from the other and finally, although they agree to team up they’re actually pursuing different aims. Jinji searches for the shadow that she has seen in her dreams and that she believes killed her family, Rhen searches for proof that his kingdom is under threat of war to prove himself to his family.
The setting is the Kingdom of Whylkin. The land was conquered many moons ago by Whyl the Conqueror, he united all the kings of the country under his banner spreading his rule far and wide and even going so far as to enforce all the inhabitants of the kingdom to speak using one common tongue. Across the ocean lies the Kingdom of Ourthuro. It seems that unrest is stirring abroad, people are looking with covetous eyes and potential plots are being hatched.
So, why did I have mixed feelings for this book.
In terms of what I liked. The author has a very easy to read style of writing. I think it’s quite well executed. I enjoyed the switch in POV and there are some very interesting concepts. I thought the start was very good and pulled me into the story well and I particularly enjoyed Jinji and her tribe – in fact I must admit that I was disappointed that the entire tribe were wiped out quite so efficiently.
However, it just felt for me that something was lacking in terms of both the world and the character building. I didn’t really have a good feel for the place and it felt a little like there were gaps that I couldn’t reconcile. There are a number of adventures as the story progresses but none of the threats involved ever felt real and in fact any sort of dangerous situation was fairly quickly resolved. On top of that I wasn’t really enamoured with Rhen. In fact, I didn’t like him (I won’t elaborate but a number of his actions gave me pause for thought). He seems to have some sort of romantic notion about heroics and adventure that give him the rather foolish notion that he’s a spy. He rushes around the countryside and even across the oceans seeking out proofs of his own ability and actually putting lots of other people at risk in the process.
Jinji’s character is much more likable I must confess. I liked her chapters much more although at the point when she started to find herself becoming attracted to Rhen – well, I’m sorry but I really do have to question her judgement over that one in fact I find it a little bit unbelievable that she would do so. That aside, yes, I liked Jinji and probably would have enjoyed this more if it was told in just her perspective as it might have allowed me to see a different side to Rhen and maybe understand why she started to like him.
In fairness to the book and the author, as I said above, I didn’t dislike this and also I think it is aimed at a much younger audience so I really hope this doesn’t come across as overly critical. It just didn’t work for me as I had too many unanswered queries that pulled me out of the plot and stopped me enjoying the characters as I would have liked.