A to Z Challenge – Q is for Queen of Shadows

queen-of-shadowsTrigger warning: Rape as a plot point.

It’s difficult for me to talk about how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed the hell out of the worldbuilding and the plot itself, the setting, all of that. On the other hand, the romance aspect left something to be desired.

Miranda Grey is a musician who’s been making a name for herself in the Austin music scene because of her ability to manipulate the emotions of her audience. However, her power is a two-way street: by looking in people’s eyes, she learns their secrets and feels their emotions. It’s slowly driven her away from human contact, and it’s just as inexorably driving her insane.

Miranda’s in a bad place when we meet her. She’s become adept at not looking at people, at making herself invisible on the city streets. She uses alcohol to dull her senses and abilities so she can rest.

It’s by sheer chance she meets David in the line at the grocery store. He’s the first person in a long time to notice her, which is unsettling, to say the least.

What she doesn’t know is that David is a vampire, and not just any vampire, but the Prime of the Southern United States. And unbeknownst to her, she’s about to fall headfirst into his world and all its darkness and dangers.

Easily, the best thing about this book is the world that Sylvan’s created. I like the society of the vampires, how ancient it is, how their leaders have been chosen in much the same way for thousands of years. The concept of the Primes, Queens, and Signets was really cool, and the parts where we learned more about vampire lore were some of my favorite in the book.

It was neat to read about an ancient culture that holds to its past while still trying (well, OCCASIONALLY trying) to move into the modern day. However, like David says several times, vampires tend to be slow about it.

I also really liked Deven, the Prime for the Western U.S. and David’s best friend. Because this is what he says when we first meet him:

“I have two lectures prepared for you, one on the perils of ignoring your destiny and the other on gluttony, specifically related to drinking your weight in Jim Beam every night.”

“I’m not drinking.”

He could practically hear Deven roll his eyes. “I’m intimately acquainted with your vices, David.”

“It’s Jack, not Jim.”

David leaned his head in his free hand. “How about the second lecture?”

He could hear Deven rolling his eyes over the phone. “If you’re going to become a drunk, at least spring for the good whiskey. Jack Daniels? Honestly. Have I taught you nothing?”

(Other things you apparently notice when you’re typing up an excerpt for a review? An author using identical dialogue tags on the same page. Yeesh. Ignore those. The dialogue is the good part.)

Really, Deven and his Consort, Jonathan, were two of my favorite characters in the story. I wished we’d gotten to see more from them.

And overall, the mystery aspect of the plot worked well, the search to uncover just who is responsible for the attacks on humans and why. Those were the most tense and interesting parts of the book for me.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just straight urban fantasy; it’s urban fantasy/paranormal romance, which means we have a romantic subplot to contend with. And that, sadly, is where the book falls flat.

When David is being Prime vampire, he’s awesome. Scary, badass, generally excellent. When he is being David the love interest, he is…less so. I have absolutely no idea how you manage to make a romance with an otherwise cool character bland, but it manages to happen. Every time he got to thinking about Miranda he went from cool to mopey, and at one point, I lost just about any interest I had in him as a character because of it.

(Highlight for spoilers, because this happens near the end of the novel and I damn near threw the book down when it did.)

About 3/4 of the way through the novel when Miranda is presumed dead, David shuts himself in his room, curls up in his bed, and doesn’t come out for THREE. DAYS.

I will buy that reaction from a teenage girl. I will not for one SECOND buy it from a centuries-old vampire who is responsible for the entire southern United States, and particularly not when he’s in the middle of a freaking CIVIL WAR.

Fight your battles, handle your responsibilities, and then you can break down as much as you want. I lost so much respect for him there, not because he went comatose, but because of when he did it.

No matter how many times the novel tells me David and Miranda are meant to be, I just didn’t see it. Every time they’re together at the beginning, she is (rather understandably) freaked out. And even though David often thought about the reasons he found her attractive, we weren’t shown them. All I saw was Miranda being a tiny, fearful child who wanted to die.

While I get what Sylvan was trying to do with Miranda’s character arc, it just didn’t work for me. It was so…jarring. She intrigued me at the beginning and I liked her after she started growing into a stronger character, but the transition between the two just wasn’t realized well.

And the tropes. My God, the tropes. Soul mates? Check. A psychic/telepathic bond that allows David to tell where she is and answer questions she doesn’t ask? Check. A teacher/student relationship as he trains her in her powers? Check. “Good” vampires who don’t kill humans vs. “bad” vampires who see them as cattle? Checkity check check.

Alone, any one of these tropes would probably be fine, but man, throwing them all into the mix like this just had me sitting around waiting for the sex pollen to show up.

And then there’s an element to Miranda’s story (and actually Faith’s background as well) that made me go “Really? Did you have to do it this way?” It’s not really a spoiler (since it happens within the first few chapters), but it is potentially triggering, hence the warning at the top of this post.

I really, really was not a fan of the rape. It was handled well—at least, as well as it can be handled and MUCH more believably than the rape in Impossible. But it bothered me that it had to be a part of her story—and not just hers, but also Faith’s, which puts us 2/3 for named badass women in this book. And at least one minor female character was nearly raped as well.

I know this is a dark story and therefore dark things will happen, but it felt like it was used as a crutch here. Oh, I need to traumatize someone? Let’s go with rape! Need to show that a guy is a douchebag? Let’s have him try to rape someone!

Overall, the book just wasn’t my thing. The parts I liked weren’t enough to overcome the parts I didn’t, and from everything I’ve read, the series goes downhill after this one. It’s a good idea, just not executed well enough to merit much more than checking it out of the library.

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6 comments on “A to Z Challenge – Q is for Queen of Shadows

  1. Trisha says:

    If the love part was a letdown, then that’s just a deal breaker for me 😉 Not really hugely mad on vampires anymore, either. But it’s good if, as you said in this case, the worldbuilding is unique.

    • thebnc says:

      Yeah, I hear you. If a romance doesn’t work it tends to break the book for me (especially if the romance is a huge part of the book). And I used to really enjoy vampire stories, so I don’t know if I’m just tired of them as well or what. 🙂

  2. Damyanti says:

    The cover has an intense-looking heroine– I’m sorry you had a bad experience with this one. Kudos to you for the honesty of your feelings expressed.

    • thebnc says:

      It really is a shame, because I did love the intensity of the cover and a female character who looked badass and sexy without being overtly sexual, you know? It’s just frustrating the book itself couldn’t quite live up to it.

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