When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.
But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…
Goodreads Link: The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Rating: 3/5 stars
(Reminder: I’m not an official SPFBO judge, so this is just my opinion and won’t affect the competition.)
I was initially excited about this book because of the comparison to Tamora Pierce. That comparison didn’t hold true for me.
This novel starts with a cliché seen too often, especially in fantasy novels: a dream sequence that hints of larger things to come in a vague way. It seems to be about the dragons from the series title, but don’t get your hopes up, there isn’t a single dragon in sight after that brief dream. If course, it’s also a warning of bad things to come, and the first bad thing happens in the first chapter, so that promise does come true right away. Then we get more clichés: the two main characters are the only ones with mysterious powers, and one of them is the Last of Her People to boot. The story follows the predictable formula from there as they meet each other, then lack trust at first, but must band together on a journey for answers.
So the story seems to have a lot going on without actually advancing the plot. The goal, at least for Jinji, is to find out more about the shadow force that killed her people so she can defeat it. However, she doesn’t tell Rhen about the shadow and lets him make the wrong assumption so they run off in another direction, ignoring the one lead she overheard. It’s not until three-quarters of the way through that she mentions anything and of course he doesn’t believe her.
I would sum up this book as a swaggering prince going on wild adventures and teasing his sidekick, a girl disguised as a boy, while she feels frustrated but never says a word to stop him. It took me a long time to read not because it was looking, but it failed to hold my interest. I don’t think I will read future books in the series.
I guess this book is setting up a bigger conflict for future books, but I found it frustrating that there was no resolution to this book. I like there to be some kind of payoff at the end of a long read, not just a cliffhanger. Instead I got introduced to a bunch of new characters right at the end and didn’t have an emotional investment before they died. The death in the middle of the book actually had more impact to the characters and to me because there had been time spent with him.
There is also a loose plot thread when they promise to help the princess escape the enemy kingdom and then promptly leave without her. I think it’s just a mention to set up a spin-off series, but I thought it was a little tacked on.
I would recommend this book to readers who like YA fantasy with a lot of tension from unspoken secrets and the sense that the main characters are chosen for a greater destiny but may take some time to get there. It wasn’t for me, but if this sounds like something you could enjoy, then give it a shot. I believe all three books in the series are already published so you don’t have to wait on the cliffhangers, which is a plus.