The Shadow Reader is a debut novel by Sandy Williams and the first book in a new urban fantasy series, McKenzie Lewis. The second book, titled The Shattered Dark, will be out in November of this year.

Ever since McKenzie’s ability to read the shadows and track fae was discovered, the fae have disrupted her ability to lead a normal life. Her random disappearances to aid the king and his sword-master Kyol in the fae war makes keeping friends difficult. Her family thinks she is crazy, and the fae won’t leave her alone for long enough to earn her college degree. All she asked was to be left alone for just a few hours so she could take her last final, but before she can finish the fae appear to warn her that she is in grave danger – the rebels have found her and they are coming for her.

McKenzie is captured by the rebels and left to worry about the fate of Kyol, who had been the one to warn her. For years, McKenzie has been in love with Kyol. While he seems to return her feelings, he cannot be with her since it’s against the rules for him to be with a human. However, these are not rules held by the rebels and McKenzie finds herself drawn to the one who kidnapped her, Aren.

The rebels teach her their language, which has also been forbidden to her, and show her that they may not be as bad as she was lead to believe. As McKenzie is drawn more into the war between the two sides, she doesn’t know what to believe or who she should trust. Yet she must choose, both which side in the war to aid and which man to give her heart to.

The Shadow Reader is fun and fast-paced. While I do have some reservations about McKenzie herself and the ending, I think it’s very promising considering it is both a debut and the first book in a series. I’m not yet certain whether or not I’ll buy and read the next one just because there are so many books I want to read, but I am considering it for two reasons. First of all, I thought the second half was better than the first half in general, mostly because it dealt more with the fae war than the details of McKenzie’s kidnapping by the rebels in the war. Since I thought the depiction of both sides of the war was the best part of the book, I’m also curious after reading on the author’s website that the next book will reveal more about the fae war. However, I was extremely irritated with McKenzie at the end so I will probably wait for reviews of the next book before deciding whether or not to continue.

The book gets going immediately, as Kyol shows up on page one and by page two McKenzie realizes she needs to drop everything and run because the rebels have found her. It only very slowly reveals all the details of what’s going on, and as we find out after she is kidnapped by the rebels, McKenzie herself may even be in the dark about a lot of the details of the fae war. The focus on the two sides of the war was very well done because it was difficult to tell which side to root for and whether Aren or Kyol were telling McKenzie the truth about their respective side. While one side did have some people who seemed somewhat more ruthless, both sides were capable of atrocities. At the same time, both sides had people capable of goodness who were just doing what they believed in for the good of their people.

The Shadow Reader is very readable, but McKenzie herself kept me from enjoying the novel quite as much as I wanted to. For most of the book, I didn’t mind her as a character. She’s not the tough fighter type, but she’s also not a helpless woman who just waits to be rescued. She tries to rescue herself when she can and that’s admirable. In addition, she seems to have a good heart.

Yet I found it hard to love her because she didn’t have much personality. The story is told entirely in the first person present tense from her perspective, and she doesn’t have a very strong voice. She tells us what’s happening and what she’s thinking, but she doesn’t inject a lot of humor or personality into her narration. I couldn’t help but compare her to my personal trinity of awesome urban fantasy heroines consisting of Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, and Toby Daye. They all have such wonderful voices and their personality just shines through and leaps off the page, making them feel very real. Being in each of their heads is a delight because of how they word their thoughts and think about what’s happening around them. To me, McKenzie was missing that extra zing that makes being in her head a fun experience. Perhaps she’s just more serious, but I like my urban fantasy heroines to have more of a sense of humor and fun approach in their narrative.

McKenzie was in the middle of a love triangle, and I found it hard to understand why either man was that interested in her. It’s not that she didn’t have good personality traits; it’s just that she didn’t have much that set her apart as someone special or interesting. Her ability to read the shadows and track where fae go when they teleport is rare and desirable to both sides of the war, but it didn’t seem like she had a lot of intrinsic qualities that made her endearing. With Kyol, she at least had a ten-year history so I could see him having the time to grow attached to her while working together so closely. Aren seemed to develop a very quick attachment to McKenzie, though. It seemed to be based on her spunk and ingenuity in trying to escape her kidnappers, but that didn’t seem like enough reason to like her when he was surrounded by brave rebel women he’d known longer. I just kept getting the feeling that both Kyol and Aren could probably do a lot better than McKenzie.

The rest of my problems with McKenzie as a character are entirely tied to some of her ways of thinking and the choice she ended up making in the end. Because these are impossible to talk about in detail without spoilers and ranting, they are behind spoiler tags so you can skip them if you do not want to be spoiled (or ranted at).

These two things really bothered me, especially because there were times when it seemed McKenzie was quick-thinking. I seem to be in the minority for feeling that way about McKenzie’s choice, though!

The Shadow Reader was enjoyable and kept me turning the pages, and I do think it was a decent debut. Sandy Williams did an excellent job with portraying both sides of the fae war and making both Kyol and Aren’s positions in the war sympathetic even though they were on opposite sides. There was also a bit of mystery with what was actually going on and whether or not one or both men were trustworthy that was well-handled. However, I wanted a little more from the main character, who needed a bit more personality and some better decision-making skills. Reading The Shadow Reader certainly not a bad way to pass the time, but I’m undecided on whether or not to continue the series since there were times the main character got on my nerves – especially at the end, which caused EPIC RANTING.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift from books on my wishlist.

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