Needless to say, it's become pretty apparent that I picked a bad time to do a big blog-theme-thingy like "self-pub summer", since this summer has just been so busy and chaotic. I guess it doesn't help that the books I picked have been largely disappointing and retaining my motivation to keep reading in my precious moments of personal time has been a struggle. Who knew that trying to read 7-8 relatively short novels in 3 1/2 months would be so hard?
So, you'd think that after being burnt out on dealing with work, mild family crises, and largely joyless reading these past few months I'd have learned my lesson not to overextend myself, right? Hahahahaha nope! Because up next--as of Sept. 1st, anyway-- is Fall of Fantasy, during which I'll be spending the coming fall semester reading/reviewing six books by big-name fantasy authors, plus embarking on a sporking of another. I had also wanted to start watching and doing weekly episode recaps of The Legend of the Seeker, but that would just be crazy, right? I mean, come on, I'm insane enough as it is, even I have limits. So, between taking 18 credits, working the late shift at a work-study job, and finally getting ready to graduate, I could very well be even busier than I've been this summer. But the strange thing is, I always seem to have an easier and less stressful time handling such a full schedule when I'm on campus than when I'm at home. I think it's something psychological having to due with 1) the feeling of having marginally more freedom over my own life while away from home; and 2) the feeling that my life has some sort of forward momentum and is progressing towards some sort of goal, as opposed to the holding pattern that I seem to get stuck in over summer break. I think that's a big part of why I've been in such a creative rut lately. Just don't tell my parents that...
But, I think I've wasted enough time with my elaborate excuses. Let's just get this review over with already.
(WARNING: Rant mode activated. This will be a mostly spoiler-free review, but there may be a few tiny, non-earth shattering revelations.)
Cloak of Shadows (book 1 of the Netherwalker series)- CK Dawn
Synopsis: "What if all you've ever known of King Arthur's legend was a lie to mislead you from the truth? What if Camelot truly existed, but was destroyed to keep its secrets? What if there were descendants of The Knights of the Round Table defending us today from the creatures that lurk within the shadows? If the gloaming came looking for you, would you answer its call?
Fourteen year old Abigail Thorne answered the gloaming and it turned her life upside down. Along with her mentor Lourdes Reese, a seasoned hunter in The King's Court, she now banishes the evil shadows while most dociles sleep in their beds.
Fighting hidden creatures that feed on humans, glimpsing fractures that lead to another world, and wielding magical weapons all before geometry? That's a normal day for Abbey now, and she loves every minute of it. But, she has no idea that being sent to Britain for her last hunter trial will unleash a chain of events that will change everything and everyone she loves forever.
A life will be lost, a life will be taken, and an unexpected new romance will emerge all while the fate of two worlds balances on the edge of a hunter's blade."
The Cover: Honesty time: this is the first self-published book cover that has truly grabbed my attention (in a good way). From the moment I laid eyes on it, I loved this cover. It's just so sleek and professional and goddamned pretty! It's an attractive cover and something that I can imagine seeing on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. It's a simple and understated design that merges the fantastical and an air of mystery with sophistication.
However... it really doesn't match the actually story at all. Pretty though it may be, I was disappointed to find that trying to match any of the themes or events in the book with the cover image involved quite a stretch of the imagination. I guess you could see how the orange lady could be Lourdie and the glowing hand is maybe that of a "darter"...? But all of the mysterious things having to do with Lourdie in the book seem too vague for me to draw any definite conclusions, even if the cover image is meant to be symbolic. I don't know, I just think that as awesome-looking as it is, the cover isn't really the best match for this book.
My Review: This is one of those rare times in which I wonder if I'm just crazy and if I made a bad choice in becoming a book blogger because my opinion must be the wrong one to have. The weight of public opinion has never been so against me, and yet I fail to understand why. Why is mine the only truly critical review amid all the four and five-star ratings for this book? Not to say that Cloak of Shadows is terrible, because it's not, but why is it that I am in the extreme minority with my criticisms? Am I missing out on something great about this book that everyone else picked up on?
The vast majority of this book can be summed up quite succinctly: nothing happens. If the plot looks like it's on the verge of actually going somewhere, 9 times out of 10 it will end up going in a circle. Sometimes I wonder why I don't just recycle material from my other reviews (particularly for the few other self-pubbed books I've read so far), since so many of my main points end up being the same. When I first started out reading this book, it felt like such a breath of fresh air after the disappointment of Blood Price, but then once again I found myself forced to wait until the last few pages for the main conflict to actually happen. It didn't even feel like a real "climax" because all the events that could be considered rising action building up to that point were thinly spread among vast stretches of nothing happening. There's really only one visual image which adequately represents the plot of this book:
And even then, all those pieces of "rising action" don't all fit together very well in the end, in part because they get lost among multiple other red herrings and lose plot threads that end up going nowhere. And what's worse is that there is actually a good deal of time devoted to some of these elements with the implication that they're an important part of the plot-development--Lourdie's nightmares and her unusual abilities--but in the end we still don't know what they mean, they have little to no effect on the climax, Lourdie herself seems to have not grown or changed as a character as a result over the course of the story, and most of the other characters are all quite nonchalant about it.
So much of this book is filler. Look, I like description as much as the next reader, and in worldbuilding-heavy novels such as this it's pretty important, but the amount of time spent on describing things is waaaay out of proportion to the actual length of the book. I know that with a first book like this you need to be able to set up the world, but you need to have enough of a story line with a solid central conflict to justify so much description. And while I do applaud CK Dawn for a number of creative and well-used elements and do believe that she has some talent for worldbuilding and setting in general, there were still a few times that she failed to explain some important elements--such as the history of the King's Court and backstory of the characters--in enough detail, while spending too much time on less important details. Like all the times she went into extraneous detail describing Abbey's and Lourdie's outfits, for example. At one point about 20 pages in, I literally yelled at my computer, "OH MY GOD, I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU'RE WEARING!". Thankfully, the needless clothing descriptions were all but dropped by about halfway. But then they get to Castle Clogyn, and the author has a character go on a jog as a flimsy excuse to spend an entire six pages just describing things. Enough already! When does something interesting happen?
Let's talk characters, shall we? I'm just going to say it: Abbey Thorne has to be one of the most irritating YA protagonists I've ever come across, but not for all the reasons you might expect. Let's just say that I now understand why more YA writers gravitate towards angsty, misunderstood 17-year-old characters than perpetually perky, hyperactive 14-year-olds, because hyperactive 14-year-olds are annoying as fuck. Christ on a bicycle, someone give this kid a chill pill! A word of advice for authors writing a character like this: having other characters constantly joke about how they need to cut back on the caffeine won't actually make their antics amusing. And it only annoys me more that most of the characters do seem to find Abbey's antics amusing and her personality somehow special and particularly endearing, when it's really not. I wanted to just slap her silly after the fourth time she said "dude", as I also did any time she and Lourdie called each other "Sensei" and "padawan", respectively. As a one-time joke it's not bad, but why, oh why does she have to call her "sensei" all. the. freaking. time??? STOP IT. You're not Japanese, and you're not being cute. Stop. It.
Also, it's was pretty disappointing that the few tiny tidbits we learned about her backstory as a homeless, orphaned preteen living on the streets never really got fleshed out. I get that the author was trying to make her character deeper than just the average hyperactive 14-year-old, but her backstory was reflected on maybe a grand total of twice and is easily forgettable, and we never really get a sense of how her old life has shaped her into the person she is now.
But despite what the back-cover synopsis would have you believe, this story really isn't about Abbey, it's about her mentor, Lourdie. Lourdie's got a few traits that could possibly make her a Mary Sue, but I think she's mostly saved from that by the fact that she definitely does have personality flaws and stresses over the fact that she's unable to teach her special Mary Sue-ish abilities to the other Hunters. What's frustrating is, as I said before, so much of the book is devoted to this unsuccessful training and Lourdie angsting over the fact that she can't teach them, and by the end none of it really goes anywhere. It had the potential to turn into an interesting development, but the author dropped the ball on this one.
And then there's the completely odious romance between Lourdie and Temple. Talk about going in circles! Every time you think a relationship upgrade, or even them coming to some sort of understanding and acting differently towards each other is on the horizon, something happens and they're back to square one. Hell, most of the time there isn't even a "something" that happens and they're just stuck in this same boring cycle of sexual frustration for no reason except that the author had to drag it out until the end of the book, and even then there is still no resolution! It gets so bad that at the point where you think they're finally going to have their Big Damn Kiss, there's one-and-a-half goddamned pages of completely ridiculous buildup, and then it doesn't even happen! And then they're acting like best friends, then it's back to the status quo, then they're sniping at each other, then they're all chummy again, then there's more sexual tension, then they're back to sniping at each other...
I'm so sick of reading about stubborn idiots and their belligerent sexual tension in YA novels, fantasy novels, and every other novel under the sun. So much of the time this frustrating behavior is unnecessary and uncalled for, and I swear that far too many authors use this romantic plot device as 1) a way to pad their word count, and 2) a cheap trick to get readers to care about the love story by putting a bunch of obstacles and misunderstandings in their way and having all the other characters point out how "passionate" they are. Oh, gag me with a spoon. PISSING EACH OTHER OFF IS NOT PASSION OR CHEMISTRY.
As per usual, I can't end this review without talking about the actually writing itself. While it was certainly better than Blood Price, there were still plenty of typos and grammatical errors that marked this as a self-pubbed book which has not undergone sufficient editing and proofreading. Perhaps the only thing more annoying that Abbey constantly saying "Dude!" were the shear number of missing hyphens. And one thing in particular that stood out to me were just how many times the author used a completely inappropriate or even nonsensical word or phrase.
Overall, out of all the self-published, young adult, and fantasy books I've read, Cloak of Shadows is far from the worst. But it's also pretty far from the best. I know I've said this in countless reviews, but I did see a lot of potential here. Dawn really does have a somewhat unpolished talent for description, worldbuilding, and, to a certain extent, creating interesting characters. But yeah, the plot really could've gone back to the drawing board.
My Rating: Two and a half stars