The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Themes

  • fairytale, fantasy, fiction, antihero, villains, female heroines,
  • classism, caste system, kingdoms & conquest, usurping the throne, kings/courts
  • murder mystery, scheming/plotting, love story, women’s rights

“They never found the body of the first boy that broke my heart. And they never will.”

After scouring the internet, hoping for something other than the same fifteen book recommendations I’ve seen all year, I decided to read a few of them. I usually don’t follow the hype and even my taste in movies does not conform to the status quo all that often. Deciding on a few of the titles that seemed to promise darkness, intrigue, and a slightly different take on the usual tropes, I selected The Shadows Between Us.

The concept is simple: a budding villainess decides to vie for power, attempting to seduce a king and steal his throne. We are so rarely treated to a novel that showcases the villain as the main character and in any other version of this story she would very much be an antagonist of sorts. The catch: she is one of many people hoping to end the reign of the Shadow King.

The first line is truly exciting, and as I continued to read I was positively dubious at the many events that seemed to go humorously wrong for Alessandra as she plotted her ambitions. The book is by no means a comedy however, but karma never seems to be in favor of our attractive sociopath who seems equally as smitten with the idea of gaining the king’s affections as she does relishing the thought of him dying by her hand.

There is little poetry or prose however, as even the love letters that are supposedly penned by her admirers fall into the “very cliché” category. The character herself is among the many female fantasy tropes as well: clever and witty surrounded by a world of men, beautiful but underappreciated, and with a touch of independence, of course she is skilled in all her pursuits, and an observant judge of character. The balance comes in her arrogance- she is aware of her advantages giving her an unfortunate amount of trouble as she fails to manipulate some of the integral people surrounding her.

Alessandra does manage to get things right often enough that this book is an easy read. The pacing is fine enough, sometimes I found myself struggling to focus on the more mundane details, often her days are routine but her developing schemes fill the spaces between. If I can say anything, it would be that this is a short and sweet read for those who want a romance novel without an embarrassing cover. There is absolutely no inappropriate content, rest assured that not every story has to resort to excruciatingly intimate detail in order to accomplish romantic tension or convey the depth of characters’ interests.

The Shadows Between Us sets out to be a “whodunit” of sorts. I was not surprised with the answer in the least, however I will say that the latter portion of the novel seems to bolt for the finish line. The resolution comes with shockingly neat corners wrapped up in the standard cliches. This doesn’t mean that the book is bad, I only felt that the plot could have focused a bit more heavily on development of the characters within court. A true murder mystery would at least spend time exploring the personalities of the secondary and tertiary players. Showing us glimpses of their dealings in the dark, or the slight quirk of a smile that’s truly a smirk, giving the audience reason to suspect anyone but the perpetrator.

I would have liked to see more of world beyond the king’s court, or perhaps explored the disparate class system, or the political turbulence that rises from imperialism. Maybe character growth from either Alessandra or Kallias in terms of how their perspectives shift when confronted with these complex situations which are only hinted at in order to give our main character strategies for beguiling the king and council. Overall, the end of the book was underwhelming. The author did not choose to trek new territory much like the unexplored territories mentioned in the book. It is always satisfying to see two characters finally see the merits in working together to advance the plot, but the ending felt as though too much of their natural inclinations were set aside in favor of a smooth, fairytale ending. For a book that took pains to set itself so apart from the usual narrative in the beginning, it took the liberty of every trope in favor of a cliché ending.

Overall, I would recommend it to young adults who enjoy fairytales.

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