Published by HarperTeen on February 9, 2016
Genres: dystopian, fantasy
Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.
But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.
With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.
With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadowsis Sophie Jordan at her best.
I wonder sometimes if I’m too harsh on a book from the start because an early detail annoys me. Case in point, Reign of Shadows takes place in a world of night, the moon fixed in a perpetual solar eclipse. Why would you name a girl who was born on the night this happens Luna? While the world is plunging into chaos and fear you name a newborn baby after the darkness? I am guessing that it will eventually be revealed that her birth and this eclipse are tied together and Luna has some Very Special Powers indeed.
This perpetual eclipse also gave me some questions about how exactly any life is still functioning? I am perfectly willing to buy that this is a fantasy story and that I am supposed to just go with it. Some things, like bats evolving into 4 foot monstrosities in the span of 17 years, I am fine with hand waving under the “it’s a fantasy novel” category. Other things, like how do plants still exist, how are there forests, and how is there life at all really could do with some further explanation. But no attempt is ever made. The chancellor is a vague threat in the distance. You never feel a sense of danger.
I have seen this categorized as a “dystopian fantasy” and I suppose it is. Unfortunately, the world building is not strong. Luna is a lost princess (of course), kept isolated in a tower with her guardians. The evil chancellor who slaughtered her family and took power on the night of the eclipse has been searching for her ever since. We know that this kingdom exists and that Luna is in hiding, but we never really see it or get a feel for the world of the story.
Like all lost princesses kept hidden for their own safety, Luna is constantly chafing to get out in the world. She is tired of the restraints placed on her by her loving guardians who have raised her to be a competent survivalist and a good person. So life goes on eking out an isolated existence in the darkness and evading the “dark dwellers,” terrifying monsters that emerge from the ground; a constant threat, everywhere. What exactly is she doing? Is she biding her time until she’s old enough to make a bid to reclaim her throne? It doesn’t appear that way. Why all the effort to raise her “as a princess”? What she actually does is run.
Enter into the story Fowler, the cliched brooding, angst-filled love interest. Cynical and hard hearted, this guy is so guarded you’d need a 20 foot ladder to climb the wall. Of course, you need not worry, because the exterior is merely guarding a heart that has been grievously wounded by the tragic murder of his girlfriend. All of the characters are one dimensional. Luna is practically perfect in every way. A kind soul, and a bleeding heart who endangers herself considerably for the sake of others. Obviously, we want our stories to have heroines who are good and have noble qualities. But we also want them to feel like real people. Luna is so selflessly good that she’s one note. I think this is intended as a foil to Fowler’s hard heartedness, but it doesn’t really work.
One of the reasons it doesn’t work is that the eventual relationship between the two has no development. In one chapter Fowler thinks to himself:
“Even if I wanted to care about someone again, there was nothing left in the shell of me. My heart might beat, but that part of me was gone.”
Literally three paragraphs later:
“Still, my gaze assessed Luna. As slim as she was, she had curves that did not go unnoticed even by me.”
Hmmm. Okay. By the end of the chapter, after they’ve taken an accidental tumble:
“Today, with this girl pinned under me, my hardness aligned to her softness, I wasn’t going anywhere.”
I think these quotes also serve to illustrate the writing style which is flowery (not in the good way) and often over dramatic from both Luna and Fowler’s POVs.
Some plot developments unfold and it is decided that for Luna’s safety she should go with Fowler on his journey to a land of rumored sanctuary, free of dark dwellers. The rest of the book is taken up with this journey in which not much of anything happens at all. Especially relationship development-wise. We get “Weeks pass by with no response from him.” That’s Luna, describing her attempts to engage Fowler in conversation. How am I supposed to buy this as a love story? The lack of character and relationship development makes what is supposed to be a wrenching cliffhanger ending rather devoid of emotion.
It’s true that cliches are cliches for a reason; often they work. But you have to build a story around them with characters who feel real and a story that is compellingly told. I can think of several “lost princess” stories that I love. Those stories work because the characters are complex and the story world is well built, full of conflict and intrigue. There is room for the characters to move both geographically in the story and emotionally through their character development. Ultimately, this book just feels like a connect the dots of standard fantasy tropes.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.