The Shadow Reader
by Sandy Williams
(Ace, $7.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-1-937007-01-0
****
The exciting first novel in a new series by a new author, The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams is a gripping alternate-reality fantasy that will please fans of both the urban fantasy genre as well as the more traditional epics.

McKenzie Lewis is all but ripped from her last final after eight years of college by her beloved, Kyol, the Sword Master to the king of the fae.  She lands in the middle of a Royal Fae-versus-rebel fae battle right on her campus in Houston.  There, despite her ability to see through magic, McKenzie's more hindrance than help and tries to flee, knowing that she's the reason the rebels have descended upon her last chance at a normal human life.  She's captured and abducted by the would-be usurper himself, Aren, whose motives are the same as the Royals: convince McKenzie to read the shadows for his band of rebels.  This talent is what really set her apart, even from the rare few humans in the Court, and McKenzie's ability to map where fae have gone just from seeing them teleport is invaluable.

Though much of this tale is dedicated to McKenzie's captivity, Williams manages to make it exciting and as realistic as things can be in a fantasy novel.  She's not treated like a princess, for one thing, and not even as a hostage.  In fact, she meets a lot of open hostility, some of which remains throughout the novel.  She isn't trusted and with good reason: McKenzie has no intention whatsoever of bowing to their wishes and attempts escapes even when the plots aren't plausible.  McKenzie is not willing to risk the life or livelihood of the man for whom she's been in love with since she was a teenager.

Except, perhaps, for Aren.

Though she knows and learns a great deal that is unsavory about the rebels' military leader, a lot comes to light about the court that is dissatisfying to say the least, and dangerous at worst —and try as she might, she cannot stop her attraction to Aren.  I can't blame her; Aren is the deepest and most passionate character in the book, including McKenzie, who can be extremely single-minded and more than a little shallow.  She is, however, the only exception to the author's fetish for names a reader can't pronounce easily.  The other characters certainly aren't flat, but they are very much stuck in specific roles.  This can be forgiven, however, since Williams wove their personalities well enough that the sheer number of them isn't overpowering.  Additionally, though there is a large cast, Aren, Kyol, and McKenzie bear most of the weight of the novel. 

The Shadow Reader is action-packed and character driven with more than a few instances of intrigue.  The politics required to hold a revolution are present but in layman's terms; readers won't be poring over chapter after chapter about the history of the rebellion, its leaders, or the legion and often illogical reasons behind it.  Williams does leave room for improvement in a second novel, which I feel still settles The Shadow Reader as a likely candidate for the best new series of 2012.

--Sarrah Knight


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