The pattern here seems to be: if I’m reviewing a whole series at once, I probably loved it. It’s pretty unusual for me to finish one book and immediately buy the rest of the series. I have to be really impressed.
I have to confess to being a bit reluctant to pick up Shadowborn. It was probably the fourth book I started after trying three others that looked similar, only to put them down after twenty pages or so. There are so many fantasies out there, and frankly, most I see are pretty mediocre.
So I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing from the first sentence, the fascinating world and characters, and a story that sucked me right in.
The books are set in the fantastical European medieval kingdom of Heddred. At the age of 12, Catwin, a lowly servant in the Duke of Voltur’s castle, is suddenly chosen to become the “shadow” of the Lady Miriel de Vere, his niece, also twelve.
As shadow, she is to be Miriel’s bodyguard and when needed, spy and assassin. Though trained by the Duke’s own shadow, Catwin is woefully unprepared when she and Miriel travel to the capital. Miriel is meant to entrance the sickly teenage King Garad, and Catwin must do everything in her power to help her. Failure means death. Success might also mean death.
The court is a scary place, full of intrigue and assassination attempts. It doesn’t help that Catwin and Miriel hate each other. They are finally reluctantly forced to work together, even though they hesitate to trust anyone.
As Shadowforged begins, Catwin and Miriel have formed an uneasy and conflict-laden alliance. Miriel seems to be poised for success, but her position is beyond precarious.
While Miriel adeptly intrigues with King and courtiers, Catwin is faced with her feelings for Temar, the Duke’s shadow. She loves him, but can’t trust him. She also puzzles over a prophecy spoken by her birth mother, right before she handed Catwin over to the keeping of the Duke’s healer, her real mother figure.
To further complicate matters, there is rebellion brewing in the south, with the young people of the court taking a strong interest. Miriel in particular is captivated by the idea of self-determination for the people, and rather riskily tries to influence the young king into a more enlightened mindset.
In the end, Miriel’s obsession with the rebellion leads to the complete annihilation of all of her plans. She and Catwin are then packed off to the Duke’s castle, where they can’t cause any more trouble.
In Shadow’s End, Catwin and Miriel are finally in complete accord, and succeed in freeing themselves from the Duke’s authority. They manage to find the rebels, and Miriel quickly becomes a figurehead, albeit one with some real clout.
Catwin continues to fend off assassins, but unfortunately, they are both forced to return to court as war with a neighboring kingdom breaks out.
Things quickly come to a head, and the end is actually quite surprising, and satisfying as well.
Due to the age of the protagonist, this probably qualifies as young adult, but it’s a pretty challenging read. Katson doesn’t hesitate to throw us into the convoluted politics of Heddred. She’s created a complex, interesting world, but it does take a bit of time to work out the roles of all of the key players.
The main characters are amazingly well-developed. I especially enjoyed getting to know Miriel, as Katson unpeeled the layers of her personality like an onion. We get to share Catwin’s process of figuring out herself and Miriel at the same time.
Suspenseful, fascinating and intelligently done.