Book: “Shadow & Flame” by Mindee Arnett
Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, June 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: From acclaimed author Mindee Arnett comes the thrilling conclusion of the stunningly epic, action-packed, and romantic fantasy adventure about a powerful girl possessed of strange magic, the outcast prince she loves, and the kingdom that has torn them apart.
Kate and Corwin are on the run, desperate for allies in a new world of war among the kingdoms of Rime. As the book opens, Kate suffers a massive loss, one that will shape the struggle for freedom of all wilders and magic folk—that is, if Kate can learn to control her own power.
Previously Reviewed: “Onyx & Ivory”
Review: I really enjoyed “Onyx & Ivory” when I read it last year. It was a fresh new fantasy story, and I particularly enjoyed the romance at the heart of it. Kate and Corwin had been attached in the past, but after a disaster through them apart, they slowly came back together throughout this story. It was a refreshing new angle on the romance subplot. The story ended fairly abruptly, however (I even wondered if my early copy wasn’t complete or something). So I was excited to see that the sequel was coming out only a year later and I placed my library request for it the first chance I got!
A year or so after the events of “Onyx & Ivory,” Kate struggles to reconcile the massive success of the Wilder rebellion, resulting in their now ruling an independent city of their own, with her own personal tragedy with the loss of Corwin in a failed rescue attempt a year past. Grown determined and ruthless in her grief, Kate has used her “sway” abilities to not only win the war, but to keep her city safe, earning her the title of the “Wilder Queen.” Unbeknownst to her, Corwin is alive and struggling to stay that way working in the deep mines of their enemy. Slowly but surely, however, their paths are winding towards one another where they will meet in the most challenging of circumstances.
I’m not really sure if my little synopsis above is a spoiler, but I don’t know how to review this book without the reveal that Corwin is alive. Indeed, that information is only in question for a brief 30-ish page section right in the beginning (and I doubt it had many readers fooled even then.) But at the same time, the book description itself goes to lengths to avoid this. Who knows!
Overall, I felt like this book was a lot darker than the first one. It’s main topic is exploring the morality of Kate’s sway power, both in her own hands and at the hands of a man much less scrupulous. It is the kind of power that wins wars, but one that comes at a high cost. In the hands of an enemy, we see just how brutal its effects can be. I particularly enjoyed this exploration of the power. We are able to get into the heads of those who suffer under the influence of someone using sway against them, forcing them to do things they never would have considered under their own free will. It’s not only tragic in the moment but leaves lasting scars that take time to heal.
Even Kate’s (the good guy) use of her power comes under question as we see how grief and loss have hardened her into a sense of rightness in the use of her power to protect those she loves, even against their own will. The debate between free will and security plays out in a very interesting manner throughout the story. And Kate herself must learn to balance her own fears with a respect for the individuality of those she cares about and their right to make choices for themselves, even if it puts them in danger.
The story took a lot of twists and turns that took me by surprise and kept me on the edge of my seat. There was a great balance between these slower scenes of character growth and moral exploration and action pieces that ramped things back up. There were also a lot of good moments that paid off on things set up in the first book and I really liked how it was all tied together in the end.
The romance took a bit of a back seat for much of the book as Kate and Corwin aren’t even reunited until halfway through the story. And then from that point there is a lot of baggage that has built up on both sides and takes time to be worked through. While I do appreciate the commitment to how the events of the last year would affect them both, there was also an unfortunate tendency to seemingly draw out the drama by not allowing the characters to communicate. Some of these instances made sense, but there were others where it felt more contrived. And as this technique to insert romantic tension into a story by having characters simply not say the obvious things is one of my least favorite, I did struggle with the romance aspect of this book more than I did with it in the first.
That aside, however, I very much enjoyed this book and felt like it was a fitting conclusion to the story that was set-up in the first. I appreciate the darker nature of the story and the fact that it delved so deeply into the concepts of free will and the darker side of being a “hero” when the hero takes away the choice of those they are saving. Where is the line when you are dealing with the question of “for the greater good?” If you enjoyed the first book, I think you’ll be happy with this conclusion. Just beware that the romance is put on the back burner a bit more.
Rating 8: A solid end to the duology that tackles some tough subjects and pays off on the mysteries laid out in the first book.
“Shadow & Flame” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “End of Series in 2019.”
Find “Shadow & Flame” at your library using WorldCat!