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Special Edition Review: Book(ish) Box’s River of Shadows by Karina Halle

Halle’s Finnish mythology inspired dark romance has been on my TBR since I caught wind of it last year. I haven’t seen a mythology romance based on Finnish mythology ever, and being a teeny bit Finnish myself, with some relatives by marriage who are massively Finnish and second-generation American by way of Finland, I jumped at the chance to get this book by whatever means necessary. And bonus! It's an indie! Imagine my surprise when I found out a book box was doing it! Unfortunately, Book(ish) Box editions have been degrading a bit in quality lately (re: Crave set edges, Electric Idol text errors, etc.), so I was naturally a bit anxious to get their edition of River of Shadows. I am happy to say and fantastically relieved that this edition is pretty decent, though not perfect.

My first relief is the cover. It is an exclusive, not a redesign, which is amazing, and it is modeled after the paperback cover of the indie version, not the hardcover. Some cover redesigns are not to my liking; I won’t rehash some of the disasters, but I’m glad Book(ish) Box left the cover alone and just played with the color a bit. It was already a beautiful cover and didn’t need a redesign, in my opinion. I suck at color evaluation, so I won’t get technical (pfft, if I can even do that) but I will say I like the color. The reverse dust jacket cover, though, has me raising my eyebrows. It bears a striking resemblance to the design on the UK cover of Empire of the Vampire, complete with the shield in the middle and the characters and animals around it. The castle on the top of the shield also appears on both covers, and the natural feature at the bottom, though not the same, is still similar. EotV has a mountain; RoS has water. It’s not very original, and it’s probably the biggest disappointment of the edition for me.

Though the reverse dust jacket cover design is not to my liking, it does possess an exorbitant amount of foil. Glorious foil. I love foil. In fact, there is also a copious amount of foil on the case wrap as well. The spine of the book, blessedly, has the title on it. I don’t like the books without the titles on the naked covers, cuz who knows what’s on the shelf if there aren’t any titles on the spine? I know some may not shelve books without the dust jacket, so that’s probably a moot point for many. It’s just my druthers. The wrap is also matte, which I like. It doesn’t quite show fingerprints like gloss wraps do. The amount of foiling on the wrap for this edition, if the wrap had been gloss, may have mitigated that problem, so that’s also another moot point. At least the foil doesn’t have to compete with the shine of a gloss wrap, though.

Speaking of wrap, the boards used for the front and back covers are very sturdy, and the spine could stun a small horse if it were used to knock it over the head (I don’t engage in that activity, that’s just for metaphorical demonstration’s sake). My boards and spine arrived un-dinged and in new condition, complete with very square corners on the front and back boards. I love when my books arrive in the condition in which they were purchased. I also like that there is a head and tail band, which I don’t get with regular hardcover indies or UK hardcovers. It makes the book appear a bit more sophisticated. It is standard on US hardcovers traditionally published (and is featured on the more recent editions of Armentrout’s FBAA editions—I have the first three bound in the earlier manner, so I noticed the change). I’m glad it’s a feature on these special editions.

The endpapers/signature page design are okay. The gray contrasted with the red is complementary to the colors chosen for the variant cover, but I find the gray a bit flat and dull. The filigree designs aren’t as ornate as those on the reverse dust jacket design, either. The skulls I find bland as well. It’s not terrible overall, but I feel it could have been taken to another level and been more ornate to round out the design on the rest of the book.

Finally, there are the edges. The design, black waves and water against a red background, is nice, but the colors are so dark it’s quite difficult for me to make the design out unless I turn on a blinding light and squint. They really do blur together for me. I usually don’t fiddle with the photo settings on my pictures, as I like to present things how they actually look—without filters—but it couldn’t be avoided to show the design for the edges. I had to crank up the brightness and exposure.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this edition. The cover colors are a nice choice, and I like that it features a signed tip-in. The biggest drawback for me is the reverse cover; the foil’s nice, but I wish it didn’t look so much like Empire of the Vampire. Now, to find the time to actually open up the book and read it. 4/5, surprisingly.

Book synopsis

"Magical, witty, deliciously seductive...River of Shadows is a uniquely immersive & tantalizing journey of love and sacrifice that has you rooting for Death and his little bird." - Bestselling author Sav R. Miller

Take Hades & Persephone, transport them into twisted Nordic mythology, add in Beauty & the Beast and some Alice in Wonderland, and you get the high steam dark fantasy, River of Shadows.

When 24-year old Hanna Heikkinen's estranged father dies, she reluctantly makes the trip to Northern Finland for his funeral. Being in the enchanting land of ice and snow feels miles away from Hanna's busy life back in Los Angeles, especially under the complicated circumstances.

But when Hanna discovers that her father's body is missing, that's when things really get weird. A mysterious man, Rasmus, tells Hanna the truth: her father was a powerful shaman who went into Tuonela, the Realm of the Dead, in order to barter for more life, and has been held captive by Tuoni, the God of Death. The only way her father can be freed is if she travels with Rasmus into the mythical underworld to rescue him.

Willing to do anything to have a second-chance with her father, Hanna accompanies Rasmus into the dark and bloody realm, traveling via the River of Shadows, stalked by dangerous creatures, monsters, and the living dead, until they finally come into the haunted kingdom ruled by Death and his family.

Only for her to be captured and held prisoner by the God of Death himself.

Turns out Death is intrigued by Hanna's beauty and fierceness and makes a bargain with her. If she marries him, and spends an eternity in the Realm of the Dead as his wife, he'll set her father free.

But even the most noble sacrifices come with hidden costs, and Hanna's might involve the most unexpected of all things: her heart.

NOTE: River of Shadows is the first book of the Underworld Gods series and is not related to any other previous books. While it fits in the sub-genre "dark fantasy" it is NOT dark enough to be considered a "dark romance." That said, it does contain dub con, captive situations, graphic sex scenes, filthy language, and scary situations, so sensitive readers (especially those sensitive to dubious consent) please take heed of this warning. It also ends on a cliffhanger.

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1 Comment

May 26, 2022

Ugh I wish I had this edition. I love it.

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