Updated: May 20, 2022
Release date: 24 November 2021
Book Boxes: Fae Crate
I'm not afraid of the shadow. He's the only thing keeping me alive.
I'm hiding in my father's closet, desperately picking the lock on a box containing an ancient evil when he emerges. He doesn't seem all that evil. But neither did my friends before they turned into monsters. I'd like to think that I don't need him. But I love books and he loves battles. I'm used to drinking tea and he's used to drinking the blood of his enemies. Or whatever his kind drink. In a world stricken by plague, all my friends have become terrifying monsters, and I have no other option but to trust him to keep me safe. He'll teach me to hunt those monsters and I'll try not to fall hopelessly in love with him.
For lovers of EVER THE HUNTED, BLADE AND ROSE, and THE WITCHER comes a fantasy tale of magic, swords, plague, and monster-hunting. Intense, fast-paced, and utterly addictive, you'll love this new fantasy adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author, Sarah K. L. Wilson.
Author's Note: This is a deep, dark romp (not steamy) with an unrelenting pace and cliffhangers. Read at your own risk.
Well, I finally got my copy of this from Fae Crate’s December 2021 box—sometime in April 2022—and got around to reading it. I’m glad I did; once I stuck my nose in it, I couldn’t put it down until I was finished. It’s been a lloooooong time since I read a book so quickly without putting it down. Heart of Shadow reminded me again of why I love reading fantasy.
The first thing to understand about this book is the plot pacing. The synopsis says the pace is unrelenting, and that is not a joke. We start in the bedroom of a young woman desperately trying to pick her way through the lock of a sword case and soon find that the rest of the household has been overtaken from within by what seems to be a strange plague that turns people into murderous monsters. Before the end of the first chapter, the sword case opens and the bodies start falling. From there, it’s a wild ride to the end of the book, and if you blink, you’ll miss something.
With the stunningly fast pacing comes an equally as quickly developed heroine. Ilsaletta, who impresses me right at the start, never fails to do so for the rest of the book. She is a natural leader who leans on the advice of others, ultimately making decisions based on a well-balanced mix of input around her. She’s very brave, bolstered by her convictions about what’s right and wrong, and to her own detriment acts on those convictions against the sage, though sometimes selfish, advice of the shadow who dwells within her sword. It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book about true courage in a young woman main character that is not actually foolhardiness. She doesn’t, like many female MC’s, disregard the advice of the male with more experience —because, you know, patriarchy—but she also takes care to make her own decisions when she knows they are not self-serving but still may end up with her injured or dead.
The balance to Ilsaletta is our suave shadow, Vargaard, who is quite the shady character but benefits from Isaletta’s unwavering love of other people rubbing off on him. Aside from the fact that Vargaard is who knows how many thousands of years old, he awakens with no memories of his past lives and chooses to serve Isaletta in a different manner than he instinctively knows he has served others before. The character development for him is quite clever, and very heartwarming by the end of the book. I may have blubbered a bit. He serves as Isaletta’s teacher, protector, guide, and confidant. The two grow quite attached, which would be fine, except there’s the complication of another guy who seems to take a shine to Isaletta as well. I don’t want to go over that too much, as it would be a bit of a spoiler, so I’ll leave it there and hope the reader finds as much enjoyment in the scenario as I did. The banter and snide comments were hilarious.
The absolute best aspect of this novel has to be the lack of info dump for the magic system and world building. Readers find out what works in the world and how as they go along, an aspect of fantasy novels that drives reader engagement with the story, and, I feel, promotes a more intellectual reading of fantasy. Some of the information that must be overtly explained is done very well, incorporated into character conversation, flashbacks, or other plot devices that aren’t long drawn-out paragraphs of exposition. The only drawback to this is, however, that if one reads through at a lightning speed, greedily slurping up the story like I did, he or she might have to go back a few times and reread in an attempt to reorient where the characters are or who a certain person is because of inadvertent skippage.
I can’t say how excited I am for the next book; I plan to read it very soon, and I hope to be able to collect the other two books from Fae Crate to match this edition, which I very much liked. The hardcover wrapping, done by @noverantale, is beautiful, and the art on the reverse dust jacket happens to be from my favorite part of the book (which NEVER happens). I won’t wait to read the rest of the series until the other Fae Crate editions come out (if they do the rest of them), and I might just purchase some hardcovers from the author if she offers signed copies. I love the book that much.