YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: The Shadows Between Us: by Tricia Levenseller

Publish Date: February 25th, 2020
Number of Pages: 326 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This is definitely a title to check out for those lovers of villains out there! There are many things to this 2020 release that makes it a story that many can enjoy:

  1. A female MC who doesn’t apologize for who she is.
  2. It’s a standalone
  3. Both the main LI’s are villains
  4. It’s been advertised as a Slytherin romance – which is actually almost a perfect way to describe it!
  5. The MC is incredibly complex in her ability to be both malicious and cunning, but kind and thoughtful all the same
  6. I suppose theres a “fake dating” trope
  7. A murder mystery
  8. A devilishly swoon-worthy male love interest
  9. it’s just overall fun!

Now I will be honest…this story wasn’t perfect—they hardly ever are—and this title didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations I’d given it. It had a few components I hadn’t expected to be included in the plot, and I won’t say they were bad, I’ll just say it wasn’t the direction I wanted it to go. It just felt like this book went the safe route after its initial set up, and I’d hoped it’d go down a much darker and twisted path. BUT…this title is still immensely enjoyable in the fact that as its a Slytherin romance, and it’s also a drawn out, slow-burn romance at that, and it still has quite a few enjoyable minor characters to add to the cast.

The cover you see above is the original cover design, but this boy decided to try out Fairyloot, a YA Fantasy subscription box stationed over in the UK, and while it didn’t straight out tell me this was the book I’d be receiving, a little research had made me 99% sure this was the book I’d receive. Below is the Fairyloot exclusive edition:

There’s not too big a difference based off just the initial glance at it besides the color choice of the background, but usually these subscription editions of books there’s more to it: there is exclusive artwork of the two main characters on the opposite side of the dust jacket, exclusive embossing on the hardcover, it’s signed by the author, and has a letter from her with a beautiful commission of the devious couple who star in this story, and that’s not even including all the other bookish items you get inside with your new book! What I’m trying to point out is, if you enjoy reading YA fantasy and enjoy receiving mail, I say check out their website and try it out!

What It’s About:

Allesandra Stathos is a young woman in a higher class noble family, but depending on who you ask, she’s very far from the lady that’s to be expected of her. Empowered to make men kneel at her feet, she’s not above taking a lover or two into the bedroom, and has even killed the very first boy with whom she’s given her heart to out of sheer revenge. Needless to say, she’s definitely not your average protagonist of the story.

In an effort to distance herself from her family and gain even more power, she devises a wicked plan: the woo the young Shadow King, manipulate him into falling for her and asking her to marry him, then to kill him and take the kingdom for herself. It’s a mystery surrounding him as to what his shadow capabilities can do exactly: are they controlling him? He can control them to do his bidding? Perhaps they insidiously whisper people’s secrets into his ear and warning him of who is actually his enemies. Either way, Allesandra has a plan, and she intends to go through with it.

Unfortunately for her, she’s not the only one with a similar plan, and she soon finds herself going out of her way to protect the Shadow King as invisible enemies also attempt to take his life. She’s not the only one who can come up with a villainous plan, but she also needs to watch out to not fall for the king herself in order to be seated on that throne by the end of it all…

What I Liked:

  1. Allesandra is the Main Character We Needed! She’s not the chosen one who’s to save the world, she’s not the long lost queen who’s come to reclaim what is rightfully hers, and thank effing god she’s not the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty when she’s got, like, four different guys fighting for her affections…She’s unapologetically herself. I loved how she can go from planning out someone’s murder to gushing over a puppy in a single moment. She’s incredibly self-aware, ambitious, sexually confident, cunning, smart, conniving, and honestly acts the way I’m sure a lot of us wish we could on most days. Who wouldn’t be pissed at someone who broke their heart, and of course only after they’d had their virginity taken, and want to stab them repeatedly in retaliation? The only difference is: Allesandra Stathos actually goes through with it.
  2. It’s A Villain Love Story! I’m totally into the idea of authors exploring the villain MC prompt more often. I feel like it’d make for a much more compelling story, plus lets be honest, we all like to explore our dark side every now and then, right? I’d love to see how far authors can go into the dark and twisted minds of a villain, and have that be the main perspective of the story. Some great examples of that off the top of my head would be The Young Elites trilogy by Marie Lu, or You (The Netflix show and novel by Caroline Kepnes). It’s a love story between two people who definitely appear as villains, and I appreciated the fact at how it was a more original idea than most of the stories that are published.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Ahh yes, every great romance has that drawn out slow burn…it moves every so slowly, infuriating you until you just want to squeeze something in your hands and feel it shatter! This book does a great job of that, and actually has a unique way of making it happen too; you too feel the burning inside along with the characters until it feels like a mere single touch will cause them both to erupt with passion. I will say though, it’s pretty tame in terms of love scenes, and feels like it has the same sexual tension of a victorian era romance where most of it is drawn from stolen looks and gazing into each other’s eyes…at least until the very end!
  4. Its Commentary on Feminism and Gender Roles! What was not expected from this book was it’s take on women and the role they play and how they measure up to their male counterparts. Allesandra goes against the idea of how a high class lady should act, and even risks her reputation by taking men into bed, and you know…even secretly murdering one too. Throughout the story, she challenges the set ways of sexism and wants a much more forward way of life, and makes a great point of how women should not be judged by what they do or don’t do in the bedroom. Men aren’t judged nearly as harshly, so why should they be? If men can go and sleep around, yet women have to wait until marriage, the math just doesn’t add up there. There was also a strong representation of female friendship. Our MC meets too ladies while staying in court, and she’s never had a pair of girlfriends before; other women have more been competition for her growing up. She develops great relationships with them as the story moves on, and even finds herself helping them in order to find happiness and love.
  5. It’s Standalone Novel! Based on how this story is set up, it’s really great that the author kept this as a single novel and isn’t going to try and make this into a series, or even a duology which is supposed to be the big thing right now for the genre/reading level. It’s not necessary to be honest, and not enough of the world is really explored outside the tightly woven plot. If the opposite were true, then maybe a duology would work, but a single novel is just perfect for this premise (plus there aren’t a whole lot of standalone YA Fantasy novels anyways).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Have We Met Before?…As the story progresses, Allesandra gets to know the King more and find herself falling in love with him a little more every day, and that part of it is fine…I’m more talking about the pure aesthetic that is the Shadow King. He’s a great character, I enjoyed him, but he just seems too similar to other characters I’ve seen before in other Fantasy Titles: He’s pretty much another copy of Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Darkling from The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, or even Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. They all share that same aesthetic of a ruthless dark prince-like figure who’s definitely an anti-hero if not a full on villain.
  2. Absolutely No Worldbuilding…While the romance and the plot were the main focus of this book, the setting takes a definite back seat–so much that it might as well be strapped to a car seat with a pacifier–so anyone who’s a fan of fantasy novels that are rich in detailed and well thought out lands and worlds to explore…you may want to sit this one out.
  3. It Could’ve Gone Further with the Villainous Main Characters…Allesandra starts off on a high note with her evil intentions, and even the Shadow King shows dark ambitious moments, but after awhile it’d felt like they’d lost their edge when it was becoming more and more obvious about their mutual growing attraction. I remember I had similar feelings with how Suicide Squad turned out, and wished there could’ve been more chaos with their wickedness.
  4. What About The Mystery?…I felt like the author could’ve gone further with the whole mystery aspect of the plot as to who else was trying to assassinate the king. I feel like the other villains/antagonists were way too obvious and wished their actually could’ve been more sneakiness behind the scenes amongst the court with more secrets revealed, and I would’ve loved to see scenes or moments with Allesandra trying to figure out who the killer is with her thoughts racing into paranoia. I wanted more courtly intrigue with emphasis on the members of the council and have them be even more scheming than just one character.

Conclusion:

Overall, a fun and entertaining story starring two villains as the main characters and love interests as the story; something you don’t see too often in any sort of work of fiction. Those who appreciate the darker themed stories or the anti-hero characters with obvious morally gray personalities like the characters from both The Young Elites by Marie Lu and You by Caroline Kepnes I think will really enjoy this title!

It didn’t entirely live up to the hype for me, and didn’t put as much focus into certain story components that I’d wished it had, but like I said, entertaining and binge-worthy all the same!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince #2): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: July 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 404 Pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, LGBT+ (M/M)

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous title of this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – The Captive Prince – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

To get what you want, you have to know exactly how much you’re willing to give up.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

So, right off the bat, it must be known that this trilogy is a total MOOD read.

It’s very niche and specific, and you have to be in a particular place to be able to really enjoy these books. I’m not going to lie, these books are kind of sleazy, perverted, and horny underneath the usual fantasy aspects of courtly intrigue, evil plots to overthrow kingdoms, oppression and slavery, epic battles, secrets revealed, complex and morally grey characters, and long journeys on horseback. A mild warning: there’s lots of penis references or penises mentioned throughout, like, everyone is aware of each others penises. It can be a turn off for certain readers, but don’t we live in a phallic dominating world anyways?….never mind, let’s not get into that.

You see a panther opening its jaws, you don’t get your dick out.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

As for me. this trilogy just got so much better in the 2nd book! Prince’s Gambit fulfilled everything I wanted for these books, but of course, STILL left me wanting even more!

Damen and Laurent’s relationship continues to develop at an achingly slow pace, but I love the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story arc, so believe me when I say it’s all worth it in the end.

The first book taught me patience,
This book taught me pain
And I know the next one will teach me love–but I’m sure there will be a lot of pain with it too…

What It’s About:

Damen and Laurent are on the road with a select number of soldiers, some men are Laurent’s and some belong to the Regent: Laurent’s creepy, corrupt uncle who rules their country named Vere. In the previous title, his uncle coerced Laurent into serving a small territory close to their border, but unbeknownst to Laurent and Damen, he’s sent assassins and part of his army after them to kill them all off before Laurent comes of age and can completely ascend to the throne. Laurent’s cruel situation with his uncle comes to light, and is revealed how he may be just as captive as Damen in certain ways.

His uncle’s plan, of course, begins to backfire and causes Damen and Laurent’s alliance to only grow stronger. They begin to trust each other, confide in each other, and become inseparable. Others amongst their soldiers begin to notice, and suddenly Damen seems like the lady doth protest too much when they ask him if anything is going on between the two of them.

More characters are introduced, and some get more attention this time around, but what isn’t new is there are still plenty of hidden agendas amongst everyone. Damen’s biggest secret–his real identity as the Prince of Akielos–is still kept under wraps, which is good, because who knows what would happen if Laurent finds out that it was Damen who’d killed his older brother in battle a few years prior. It’s okay though, because the two of them spend too much time staring longingly and broodingly at each other to worry about it ever coming up!

Problem solved.

More secrets are revealed, more enemies make their presence known, plots are discovered, and even more bitter betrayals threaten everything in order to bring peace back to the realm as war appears on the horizon.

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Rape, Violence, Dismemberment, Heartbreak

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Burn Romance Continues! It’s one of the main driving points of the story, but more happens in this sequel that leans towards an eventual romantic relationship between Damen and Laurent. The first book didn’t have any; it was more about them starting off as sworn enemies turned reluctant allies, but this book has them growing closer as they travel across the land, narrowly escaping danger, and both secretly deal with their growing attraction for each other, even if they refuse to admit it to the other. It does move at an incredibly slow speed, so impatient readers will get frustrated at how little they receive from the author until the very end. There are a couple side-romances to somewhat fill the void while you wait and see what goes down between our two protagonists as the tension builds.
  2. More Battles! The first book was more about the hedonistic indulgences of Laurent’s kingdom, along with its cruelty and political intrigue; Damen figures out what a truly effed up world he’d been transported to. This title includes all that plus more with high octane, gritty battles between soldiers that makes it a much faster paced read in that regard!
  3. So Much More Complexity! The first title just set the scene for us that included the slavery, the court politics, and the underhanded scheming, but this book includes all that plus so much more! Evil plots are revealed, even more betrayals occur, complex characters and their motives being revealed, more heartbreak and violence; everything just feels enhanced and exaggerated in this second title that makes it so much more interesting of a read!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Maybe Needed More Romance?…Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t like about this book, but maybe I wish there was a little more romance between the two main characters? A stolen kiss here or there? Something to satisfy or tease us to help build up towards Chapter 19, and maybe not make it feel like it takes forever to get to that point.

Conclusion:

Everything about this book is so much better than the first, and the real plot is revealed that brings up the point of how nothing is truly as it seems; we as humans only see what we want to see. The author excellently crafted a well plotted, intricate piece of LGBT fantasy literature that’s hidden beneath hedonism, sexual imagery/themes and erotic undertones. I can understand that it’s not for everyone and it caters to a more specific kind of audience, but I can say I was a part of it because of how much I’d enjoyed it!

There’s slow romance to the point of it being more frustratingly slow than any other one I’ve read before, but that just makes what we’re given all that more satisfying. It’s like having ice cold water after a long journey through the desert.

I’ve grown really fond of Damen–despite the gigantic secret he keeps from Laurent–because of his courage, his honor, and willingness to do what is right even when the odds are stacked against him. It’s also just a nice change of pace to read a protagonist who’s already well adjusted into his queer sexuality, and that part of the story isn’t about him or Laurent coming to terms with it.

The ending of this title certainly raises a bunch of questions, and sets it up to have quite an intriguing next chapter in this complex story! I dove into it immediately because I had to know what would happen next! What do Damen and his friends showing up mean? How does Laurent and Damen’s relationship develop? Does Laurent know? So many questions!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell