Read: May 2014
Author: Moira Katson
Pages: 266 (paperback)
Selected By: The Divine Ms. Em
“The Duke of Voltur has schemed for years to become the power behind the throne of Heddred, using his niece Miriel as a pawn to secure the King’s heart. To this end, he has chosen Catwin, an orphan girl, to become Miriel’s Shadow: spy, assassin, and bodyguard. Thrown together by the ambitions of a ruthless man, Catwin and Miriel must learn quickly to survive in a Court that wants them both dead.” – from the author’s website.
The Divine Ms. Em:
This was such a great book and the perfect glimpse into the intrigues found within the Courts of yore. While reading this novel, I often found myself reminded of the Tudor dynasty, with all of its turbulent politics and the attitudes and outlooks of the overly-privileged and overly-powerful nobility.
I found Catwin to be an intelligent and independent young woman with a vicious stubborn streak and spot-on instincts. My only issue with her relationship with Miriel was that so many of their problems could have been solved – or even avoided entirely – simply by one of them swallowing their pride and fear and opening up a line of communication with the other. I really liked our protagonist, though, and think her ability to use her wit and knowledge to handle things on her own is a refreshing relief from standard fantasy heroines, who always seem to need male intervention at some point or another.
Miriel herself was entirely the product of her mother in the beginning, and, as such, I had a hard time relating to – or even liking – her. However, as the story progressed it became apparent that everything about her from the very beginning was a sham; under her mother’s roof, she played one role, but as the occasion and situation changed, so did the masks she put on. She is a pawn, manipulated and used by those much more powerful than she, cast about like a disposable object at the whim of others’ ambitions – and worst of all is that she knows this and is powerless to do anything about it. So many expectations have been put upon her for so long that it’s hard to remember sometimes that the poor girl is only fourteen-years old. For these reasons, I truly feel Miriel, despite her finery and large rooms and jewels, is the more disadvantaged of the two girls.
Unlike the other Ladies, I had absolutely zero trust for Temar by the end of Shadowborn. Oh, he certainly was a champion for Catwin, but his loyalty to the Duke was as harmful to her safety and continued existence as it was suspicious. His motivation for helping Catwin at all is suspect, as it is made clear quite early on that he will, at the mere whisper of discontent about her from the Duke, personally put an end to Catwin without blinking an eye. Catwin herself is quite young, and the choices presented to her are impossible: she can defy the Duke’s wishes and die, or she can mentor with Temar and become a Shadow. In my mind, those are no choices at all, just as Temar’s “kindness” in mentoring her is less about sympathy on his part and more about following the orders given to him by the Duke.
Also unlike the other Ladies, I truly liked Roine throughout the novel. I saw no reason to suspect her of anything other than wanting to protect her charge; she raised Catwin from infancy, and the withholding of information that was so distasteful to the other Ladies was, to me, less about malice and more about denial: she did not want to see her adopted daughter become a cold-blooded killer, and so she simply refused to provide her with the tools and information that would make that particular path easier to continue down. Roine was maternal, warm, and caring, and she provided Catwin with a much-needed safety net and sense of sanctuary amidst the chaos of Court.
The Duke, which the other Ladies seemed to at least partially feel sorry for, had few redeeming qualities in my eyes. He abuses his sister, his niece, and his employees without a second thought – everyone around him is dispensable, and he has nothing in his life but his own ambitions. This sort of outlook is par for the course with just about any nobility, but this is exactly what makes his entire attitude that much worse in my opinion: he came into this world as a merchant’s son – a veritable nobody – and yet as soon as he gets even a modicum of power, this is what he does with it, this is what he becomes. Regardless of the stress he might be under and the terrible disappointments he has had to face, it has to be said that the beatings he has issued to the two girls are senseless. He is little more than a bully, a tyrant who rules his household with an iron fist, ruthless intimidation, and violence.
Garad, our young and untried king, started out quite promising, appearing as an ally and friend for Miriel and, by default, Catwin. His progressive and rather modern ideas about the future of his kingdom seem revolutionary and full of hope… until Miriel makes the mistake of disagreeing with him. At that point, Garad becomes a poor little rich boy, a brat with too much power and not enough common sense, a snotty kid in the midst of an enormous temper tantrum. It’s really this character that brought to mind all of the child-monarchs of past kingdoms, all of the young boys and girls who were handed crowns and realms and people and given the power to control so many lives… and so much death. At the end of this first novel, it’s really hard to say how the relationship with the King and Miriel will progress – or even if it should – but one thing is very clear: Miriel will not be improving her situation by much at all by trading the household of the Duke for that of the King.
All of that being said, I enjoyed Shadowborn enough to read the remainder of the series. So, look for my review of the Light & Shadow Trilogy in the near future!
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Roine.
The Divine Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book, as well as the Kindle versions of Books 2 and 3.
Favorite book thus far! From the word go, I was intrigued and wondering where Catwin’s life would take her. I’m not even sure where to begin with my thoughts but let’s start with the writing style. Ms. Katson, job well done! She brought to life a feudal system and it’s treachery that was very palpable. I could envision the lands, the capital’s geography, the characters were tangible and the story moved along, even in the points where it lulled a little bit and you were waiting for more action. The author did a great job in providing the reader with enough background to keep you informed without spoon feeding the reader to the point of tedium. We learned, as Catwin learns, and it’s a great experience. I felt that each bit of information she provided was crucial for us to learn so that we could understand the time, the place, the culture and shape our expectations accordingly.
The question of Catwin’s fate will forever hang over the series. The foretold betrayal that is to come kept me enthralled throughout. Catwin is a slightly sympathetic heroine. I say that only because, while she endeavored to do something foolish, she singled herself out as being apt the position of a Shadow. I imagine that her start along this path is as daunting as it is beguiling. While I sympathize with her conflict over becoming an assassin at such a tender age, I am more prone not to be sympathetic because, she cast a light on her talent to be unseen, crafty, adventurous, and seemingly without fear. While she is still a child and I can understand her angst over being made to become an assassin, a spy and anything else her duty entails, I say, well, you should not have pulled the stunt that you did upon the Duke’s arrival into Voltur.
She is young and uneducated, but has a pretty good instinct about her. However, it appears that neither her instinct nor wit are as sharp as they should be in such a situation, she is learning slowly on who and what to trust. Again, she’s a child or early teen. Her loyalties are conflicted out of fear and anger more so than true positive emotion. Even her venting is just that, venting, not whining as many more “adult” characters are doing in other works. I can appreciate that. I can thankfully say, even though I grew frustrated with her at points, by no means was I rooting for her demise or for the betrayal to come quickly. Catwin is as complex a character as any of the others and is not ruled by simplistic thoughts of outward appearances. However, she is probably not my absolute favorite character in the book.
I turn my attention to Temar. While he is held out to be someone who is not quite trusted due to his alliance with the Duke and his profession as a Shadow, I find him to be a character that is very complex and that his loyalties and motives are not all that they seem. However, he does his duty and he does it well. He is a sound mentor to Catwin and whether some of his lessons fall short out of self-preservation, to remain relevant in Catwin’s training, or to keep her away from things that may be beyond her depth is yet to be determined. However, I admired that he was more than honest with Catwin in the beginning as to her role and the consequences for failing at it. Now, whether Catwin understood or chose to ignore his admonishments, it’s on her, but I believe Temar did his duty in letting her know what was at stake from the word go. He does his duty in spite of his openly hidden hatred of the Duke for reasons, we are yet to be privy to. Temar is a study in what Catwin could become if she observes the things around her and takes warnings to heart. Despite Catwin’s belief that Temar has betrayed her, I feel that Catwin is more the betrayer. As much as she admires Temar, she still questions his motives when he should really be questioning hers.
Roine is held out to be the wonderful caring surrogate mother to Catwin. I call bulls***. Something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark with this one. She’s a little too quick to be at odds with Temar, to cast a disparaging comment or even advocate for things that seem contrary to Catwin’s well-being. I feel like my suspicions of her were validated at the end of the book. However, I will have to wait to see if what I believe to have happened is truly what happened. However, I have little to say about Roine other than I questioned her motives. Was that a staged disagreement with Temar to peak Catwin’s interest in training? Are she and Temar in league with some ulterior motive? How strongly is she attached to the rebellion? I am pushed, in a wonderful way, to continue the series to either clear her name or scream my damnation at her!
Ah, the Duke. While he is not necessarily a likeable character in the way that he treats his niece and Catwin, there is something about him that makes you only the slightest bit empathetic. His distrust of his niece is just the extension of his disappointment and distrust of his sister, Miriel’s mother. His ability to climb the ranks of their army and become ennobled is a sign of his determination, his fortitude and his ability to make the best of a bad situation. Unfortunately, the war of politics is much more perilous than any battlefield he may have encountered. His stranglehold on those around him is not merely a thirst for power, but also a necessity if he does not desire to lose what he has gained.
While he is ruthless in his dealings with Miriel and Catwin, I believe his intentions are to not only position them in the best possible situation, but to keep them as safe as possible while they do his bidding. There is no away around the fact that he is a tyrant and things must be done just so and according to his well laid plans, but we cannot escape that he is a fair and just leader to the people of his lands, his prior fellow soldiers and the like. I believe, that the Duke understands that while playing the games that he must with the nobles, the truly most important people are those who rely on him to keep them safe and he does what he can to do that, whether they are in Voltur or in the capital. I also wonder, if his actions do not speak of an ulterior motive that is more daunting to the crown than one would think. I feel that (and we will only know this upon completion of the series), he could quite possibly be the leader of the rebellion, who is named a Jacces, but no one has seen.
Lastly, Miriel. There is very little to like about the spoiled brat. However, I see every bit of her mother and her uncle in her. She is wiser for her years than most of the characters give her credit for. Like her uncle, she is kind to the servants, because she also knows, these are the people who most likely can save or take her life. I think that only heightened her empathy toward the populists and the rebellion and made perfect sense to me. While I mostly disliked Miriel, because she is pretentious, bratty, and ill-behaved with Catwin, I also recognize it as a protective measure for herself. She understands that she is thought of little by her uncle and most of the rest of the court, but it would stick in anyone’s craw that I must behave so properly amongst so many treacherous people, but I also must deal with being spied upon in my personal space, that would send anyone into acts of brattiness. I found myself empathizing with Miriel because she is in an impossible position of pleasing her uncle, achieving her goals in court and maintaining her sanity. I was almost hopeful when she seemed to become friends with the boy King. But alas, being much like her uncle, her notions of how things should be done clash with others and she doesn’t know how to temper her expectations, especially with Garad. Miriel understands her place in all things, she is stubborn, and I feel that she would need to be to survive in this environment. She is pliable enough to adapt to the situation presented to her and make it work in her favor. Minus her temper tantrums, Miriel is actually worthy of being the next queen.
I could go on for ages about this read. I can’t wait to read the next installments and will do so after I’ve read a few other books that I have been meaning to read (darn OCD). I enjoyed it thoroughly, even the slow parts. The setting, to the characters made the book come to life for me and honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a visual adaptation of it (It’s not quite “Game of Thrones” level, but has potential… at least as a miniseries). The shadow of a rebellion and war looming adds for fire to this for me. Good job Ms. Katson! Thank you, Divine Ms. Em for picking this!
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Temar.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book, as well as the Kindle versions of Books 2 and 3.
“Say you’re on my side… My side, and no one else’s.”
Until that moment, only a few pages away from finishing this novel, I was wholly prepared to give this book a three-cup rating. The writing style is good but not great, the story itself was doled out in fits and starts, and the back-and-forth with the two girls, which comprises a good majority of this novel, seemed repetitive at times.
Don’t get me wrong, though: I consistently enjoyed it from the beginning. First, I’ll get behind any book that has strong female characters in it who aren’t simply there to fall in love or be rescued. Second, it smacks of the sort of political intrigue that I’ve always found fascinating – many of the nobility, the actions of the Court, the politics of the realm, the attitudes of the royals, and the constant brokering for information by the servants, guards, and commoners reminds me of the fourteenth-and-fifteenth century dynastic upheavals that were the Hundred Years’ War and the War of the Roses. And third, I really like books with “grey” characters. In reality, people are not either good or evil; the wickedest people you can think of still have some redeeming quality, and someone somewhere loves them, just as the most virtuous will have their enemies and closets with at least one skeleton collecting dust.
It was all quite good. But it wasn’t great. I read it quickly and enjoyed the hell out of it, but it just didn’t grab me enough for me to want to tell the world, “Wow! This was a great book! I mean… Wow!”
Then, as subtly as she did with every other character in the novel, as slowly and unexpectedly, Miriel won me over. I didn’t even see it coming. I wasn’t expecting it. I was perfectly happy not liking this snotty, albeit pitiable, little rich girl.
And then my eyes slithered across those eleven words, plunked down into the middle of an action scene. It was like Katson had come up behind me, smoothly slid a blade right between my ribs, and punctured one of my lungs.
“Say you’re on my side… My side, and no one else’s.”
Those words are a sigh of relief at the end of this novel. Shadowborn’s overwhelming themes seem to be isolation and desperation – isolation, and the power and weakness that come with it, and desperation, with all its recklessness and ruthlessness. From the cold mountains of Voltur to the crowded Court at Penekket, there is not a single character with whom we come in contact who isn’t set apart – either by chance or design – and driven to great lengths to survive.
We begin with the Lady, a disgraced woman who is living in relative exile at her brother’s keep – a brother whom she fears and who, in turn, despises her; the only good thing she has that is her own, that she can bring herself to actually love, is her daughter, who is very shortly removed from her. The Lady was so horrid to Catwin, so petty and vindictive, that Katson could have left it at that, and we, the readers, might have felt that her isolation was justified: she was so nasty to our protagonist that she got what she deserved. But Katson doesn’t leave it there. Instead, she makes it a point to have Catwin later consider the Lady, that woman who treated her so abysmally; she imagines her roaming empty rooms, dining in an empty hall, dressing sumptuously… for no one. This was our first taste of Katson’s “grey” character development: the Lady, who for the first few chapters of the book was the archetypal evil “stepmother,” is suddenly twisted from simply a bad person into a woman set apart from the society in which she thrives and a daughter whom she loves fiercely and to whom she desperately clings. She would literally do anything for her child; most parents I know say the same thing, but if they were called to act upon that, to beat down a threat to their own offspring, would they have the strength to do it? And if so, would that make them bad people? I think not. I began Shadowborn hating the Lady; I ended it pitying her.
The Duke is, even after finishing this first book, a puzzle for me. Part of me is baffled by him: his penchant for violence is extraordinary. For so withdrawn a man, he possesses a temper that is shocking in its ferocity and startling in its appearances; he is completely tidal, full of ebbs and flows, waves and calms. Initially, I bought the hype wholeheartedly: he was a man to be feared, everyone else in the book said so, and that was sufficient for me. But as I read more, another part of me began to question that initial assessment. From the beginning, we are told that people fear him – and well they should, considering that nasty temper of his. But we later learn that there are many who respect and love him; the former king, for one, as well as all of the soldiers who have fought with and for him. The person closest to him despises him with a patient, dangerous sort of passion – and yet, for reasons still unknown by the end of Book 1, would still lay down their own life to protect the Duke. He is not a good man – a good man wouldn’t beat the living hell out of a couple of teenaged girls – but I’m still having reservations about saying that he’s an altogether bad one.
I can’t separate Temar from Roine for the purpose of this review. Temar, the Duke’s Shadow, is initially put before us as a savior of sorts, an ally – if not a friend. Roine, who raised Catwin, is a healer by profession and a port in the storm for our confused and often mistreated heroine. But as Catwin’s eyes open, as she stops seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses of her childhood spent in anonymity, these two solid, dependable characters begin to perform a rather complicated dance, weaving back and forth around each other until it’s hard to say who is loyal and who is simply going through the motions. Temar, we know from the beginning, keeps his own counsel; he deals in the secrets of others and has seen firsthand how so precious a commodity can ruin a person, thus he is very protective of his own. But as Catwin grows in skill, knowledge, and maturity, Temar slowly begins to lose some of his initial charm, until, by the end, we aren’t certain of his motives. We do know, however, that, no matter what, he will succeed or die trying; he certainly didn’t come this far to let a child ruin him or stand in the way of his purpose, and you have to give him this: he’s loyal as hell and fulfills his obligations to the tee.
Roine plays the part of a doting mother so well that I couldn’t help but mistrust her from the beginning. She frequently professes how worried she is about Catwin’s safety and that she wants to help her, but her actions speak against this – at least when it comes to giving this child, whom she says is like a daughter to her, any actual assistance. Every secret Catwin takes back to her and tells her in confidence is one that Roine seems to have already known – known, and didn’t tell Catwin herself. It later is even shown that Roine has formed a bit of a friendship with one of the other characters without Catwin’s knowledge – an acquaintance about which Catwin would surely have profited from knowing. Again, with both of these characters, we’re paddling around in grey and murky waters: I can’t say whether either of them is “bad” or “good” – they both have their own motivations for doing things, and at the end of Book 1 it’s really not clear who either of them are, what they want, or who they’re actually for or against.
We see Garad Warden, the young king of Heddred, through the eyes of Catwin, and we build our initial ideas about him from rumors and Miriel’s hopeful daydreams. But soon enough, he, too, reveals himself to be only human, flawed and selfish, a young man cracking under the strain to prove himself, chaffing under the yoke of government, heedless of the plights of those beneath him. When Catwin hoped that Garad would give Miriel the freedom of thought and opinion for which she is so desperate, I believed him to be good, to have the right ideas about everything, to be the one thing that might offer them both some shelter from the stormy Court and raging Duke. But when that dream was gone, I was left disliking him immensely. He is young, but he is also King, and the power is swiftly going to his head. Much like many of the kings of old, he believes that his power should be absolute. But, as it is said, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I think we are just beginning to see the effects of this on the Boy King.
And this brings me to Catwin and Miriel. Catwin is strong, self-sufficient, and intelligent; she has a wicked stubborn streak, but she also has the wit and common sense to get herself out of most of the trouble she finds. I couldn’t relate to Miriel at all for most of the novel – nor are we intended to. She is spoiled and condescending, standoffish and demanding, with a thread of cruelty she inherited directly from her mother. The entire plot of Shadowborn is centered around the push-and-pull of these two strong young women as they struggle against the reins of their entangled fates. There is a bit of back-and-forth: the girls become close, then they fight, then they’re close again, then, whoops, they’re fighting again; but these instances, as repetitive as I found them to be, were (a) few and (b) necessary. I say they are necessary because these are both strong-willed girls; they have made their minds up in the beginning to hate – or at the very least resent – each other, and it is a long, hard struggle for Miriel to accept and trust Catwin and for Catwin to forgive and trust Miriel.
And that is why those eleven words struck me as much as they did. After all of this isolation, after all of the bickering and beatings, after the taunts and the secrets, suddenly, unexpectedly, when all of the threats coalesce into one very real moment of terror, one girl simply, quietly turns to the other and begs for an ally.
What she gets instead is, at long last, a friend.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Temar.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book, as well as the Kindle versions of Books 2 and 3.
I really enjoyed this book and found it quite easy to relate to our protagonist, Catwin; I thoroughly feel Catwin and Miriel both really stand out as some of the best representations of young, strong female characters I’ve read about in a while, especially in modern fiction. The intrigue and politics surrounding the book were really more secondary for me – the important theme was, in the end, in my opinion, about friendship: specifically the cultivation and retention of friendship amidst overwhelming opposition.
Catwin herself is a background character; at no point is she truly the center of attention, and she prefers it that way – in fact, it’s her entire purpose: to blend in, to not be seen. She is an independent young girl, and an intelligent one. I really liked her personality, though I, like Ms. Em, did feel that all of the problems she and Miriel faced could have been solved or avoided with a simple conversation. Catwin especially seemed content to keep her secrets for far too long, which tended to drag out their eventual truce. The small things about their budding friendship struck me the most – such as when Miriel wordlessly gave Catwin new clothes, and when, in the midst of a discussion, Catwin said the word “we” for the first time, marking the two girls out as being in some way together, and Miriel responded with the rather disbelieving and surprised, “We?”
I, like the other Ladies, find myself unable to separate Temar from Roine. I trusted neither of them and truly felt by the end of this first novel that either one of them was completely capable of setting up the assassination attempts against both Catwin and Miriel. By the end of this first novel, I have to admit that I trusted Temar a little more than Roine; he had just as much access to both girls, as did she, but only Roine was feeding the girls ideas – you could say she was being discreet… or you might say she was being devious.
I liked the young king in the beginning, when he and the girls were just getting to know each other, when he was full of ideas and aspirations that Miriel and Catwin agreed with and easily defended. But by the end of the novel, I didn’t care for him at all; it swiftly became apparent as the storyline progressed that he is very easy to get along with as long as everyone around him agrees with him at all times – disagreements or varying opinions bring out an ugliness and pettiness in him that is supremely distasteful. We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg with his ambitions, I feel, and there is a growing sense of his hunger for power and the swell of his already heightened ego.
I was torn about the Duke, who I feel is one of the more complex characters in this story. It’s hard at this point to say I liked him… but it’s equally difficult to say I hated him. He was a common man who rose to power on his own steam armed with nothing but his intellect, cleverness, and not a small amount of ruthlessness. He is a war hero and those who have fought with him have nothing but fine things to say about him. But his common roots make his position at Court tenuous at best, and as the political webs tighten around them all, his desperation to hang onto what he has grasped and his passion to solidify his position by gaining even more power makes him tyrannical and cruel. His swiftness to violence really started making me angry with him by the end, but I still can’t help but empathize with him, at least a little bit, for his struggle.
And as for Catwin’s other half… I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Miriel when the story began, but I truly liked her by the end. She spent her entire life playing a part, mirroring and mimicking whatever others expected her to be. When we first meet her, she is a perfect imitation of her mother; once removed from that environment, however, she begins to find her own voice, even as she plays the parts her uncle lays out for her. I feel that between the two girls it is Miriel who has had the harder road; privileged as she is, she has had no real freedom, while Catwin can at least boast that she remembers what it was like to be her own person.
In the end, this was a really great book and one that I might not have otherwise read had it not been for Gigglemug! I’m still working on finishing the Maze Runner Trilogy and do still plan to post my review on that series upon its completion, but I also am adding the remainder of the Light & Shadow Trilogy to my list of must-reads.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Catwin.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.