The Shadow Queen – C.J. Redwine – Ravenspire #1 –
Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.
In the neighbouring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.
But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.
In a current era of young adult fiction where fairytale retellings abound in great numbers, this story is epic, clever, familiar, original, fun, and so enjoyable to read. With one tough, warrior princess, an evil queen, a gorgeous new fantasy world to discover, a charming and slightly adorable romantic interest and even dragons (dragons!!!), The Shadow Queen is set apart from your average fairytale retelling.
Once upon a time there was a princess who was unlike any other princess. She lived, not in a castle but on the streets, moving from town to town. She was clever and strong. She fought and trained, and she worked hard for every mouthful of food. She loved her brother and desperately missed her dead father and mother, and she knew that one day she would enact revenge and would restore her kingdom to health and prosperity.
Lorelai lost almost everything the day her stepmother, Irina, killed her father and assumed the crown of Ravenspire. Lorelai escaped with her younger brother Leo and loyal guardsman, Gabril. For nine years she has evaded Irina, stealing from the Queen’s stores, helping the peasants who starve under Irina’s harsh rule, and planning for the day when she can take back her kingdom. In the neighbouring kingdom of Eldr, Prince Kol is shocked by the tragic death of his family, leaving him to take the throne as Eldr’s new king. But with ogres marching ever closer to the heart of his kingdom and leaving destruction in their wake, he fears his only available course of action is to approach Queen Irina of Ravenspire and beg for her help in securing Eldr’s safety.
Saying this book is just a fairytale retelling would be underselling it. Yes, there are many similarities to the original tale of Snow White and even some of the recent retellings in both print and film. There is an evil queen taking power from people’s hearts, the use of apples for nefarious purposes and a kingdom that needs to be returned to its rightful ruler. The similarities end there though, as Lorelai is as opposite to a damsel in distress as possible (no enchanted sleep here), and there are no dwarves, seven or otherwise. As I look back though, there are little nods to the story which I didn’t pick up on at first, but which make the whole story that much more clever and richly detailed.
Ultimately this is a high-action fantasy, with one tough heroine. Lorelai is incredibly brave. She can run fast (not as fast as Leo, but still), she can fight, she can leap across buildings and she can run up walls!! But she is also very clever, and just a little bit devious. The Shadow Queen is written in third person, alternating between Lorelai, Kol and Irina’s perspectives, which flows perfectly and allows readers to get to better know the characters and their true motivations.
I must admit, I had a bit of a love/shake-my-head-in-frustration relationship with Kol. He has tragedy followed by great responsibility thrust upon him. Yes, his kingdom is in dire need for help, yes, Kol is in a hard place and has few options, but going to a sorceress queen and agreeing to do her bidding while asking few questions is a little too trusting and naive! Of course it’s going to go badly. Sigh. Luckily for Kol, Lorelai is pretty good at coming up with plans and has no trouble with saving people. But by the end, Kol had stolen a little piece of my heart with his charm and determination to save his kingdom, people and … well, everyone. Kol is also where the dragons come into the story. The people of Eldr are Draconi and can transform into dragons (so cool).
While Lorelai is everything you could ever want in a strong and independent heroine, and Kol is the charming and adorable romantic dragon-in-distress, Leo, Lorelai’s brother, was the character who stole my heart. Dear, sweet, cheeky Leo, who makes endless jokes and who loves to tease his big, serious sister. He brings so much heart to this story (pun intended, take it or leave it).
The romance is a fabulous part of this book, not the focus but a delicious addition, growing slowly but with great heat and intensity. Little moments are used to create great depth. In fact, there is a lightheartedness brought by the characters that contrasts with the heavy nature of the book, the death and desperation of the people of Ravenspire, Lorelai’s loss and even the destruction of Eldr.
The action is pretty much non-stop. Just when you think things will go easier for Lorelai and her little band of friends something else happens, another oh no, what now?! moment. But in between all the fights and the heartbreak and magic are sweet little scenes, banter between Lorelai and her brother, self-important posturing from Kol’s friend Trugg, heartwarming moments as Kol and Lorelai grow closer, that bring a brightness and freshness to this story.
The ending is worthy of this epic story and there is enough of a happily ever after to satisfy any fairytale guidelines. This book is a standalone in a new series of fairytale retellings set in the same fantasy world. I’m hoping that means we will reconnect with Lorelai and Kol in the following book, as well as meeting some new characters.
A charming addition to the growing abundance of fairytale retellings, The Shadow Queen stands out with its courageous and intelligent female lead, creative fantasy-world setting I can’t wait to explore further, dizzying romance and non-stop action.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Genre: Fantasy, fairytale retellings.
Themes: Magic, family, royalty and kingdoms, fairytale retellings, war, grief, loss, love and romance, dragons.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: Violence – magic battles, deaths and injury.
Published: 16 February 2016 by Balzer + Bray.
Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook. 400 pages.