Review: THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US by Tricia Levenseller

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 25th, 2020
Page Count: 336
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: This review was based on a free ARC provided by the publisher.  It has not affected my review in anyway.

35702241Alessandra is tired of being overlooked.  A second daughter in a country where women have few rights and where she can’t marry until her older sister does, Alessandra has decided to take matters into her own hands.  It’s quite simple really.  She’ll woo the Shadow King, marry the Shadow King, and kill the Shadow King and rule in his stead.  But with a mysterious assassin on the loose, Alessandra will also have to work to keep the Shadow King alive long enough for her plan to work.

THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US is a delightful, swoon-worthy YA romance, with plots and courtship and balls and attempted assassinations. Alessandra is a protagonist who is determined to get what she wants, no matter what.  She will bribe, flirt, plot, steal and kill to accomplish her goals. It’s an approach to a character very reminiscent of Becky Sharp of VANITY FAIR; Alessandra is selfish and ruthless, yet at the same time she does it with such flair and confidence, you can’t help but root for her, especially in a society that has given her few options to advance.  Equally important is the fact that her potential love interests are smitten with her because of her tenacity and boldness.  They see her as an equal, not a willful girl to be indulged.

THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US does a good job of balancing intrigue with court life.  There’s as much attention to the rumors exchanged in the sewing circles as there are to the various attempts on the Shadow King’s life.  With balls and courtiers who gaze wistfully across the room at lover stuck in a loveless engagement, there’s a definite Jane Austen vibe sprinkled over everything.  And of course, while Alessandra comes to court with a very mercenary agenda, sparks eventually start flying all over the place, especially with that sumptuous tension that comes from the Shadow King’s magic not allowing him to touch anyone.

The half star that comes off the book is the slight unevenness of the characters as the author strives to thread the difficult needle of characters you want to root for who aren’t exactly heroes.  Kallius (The Shadow King) is a benevolent despot.  He doesn’t WANT for people to get hurt, but look, he’s going to rule the world and would you kindly all stop fighting him on that?  Kallius is tall, dark, and handsome, will kill you if you lay a hand on Alessandra, has a dog who is a very good boy, and casually orders the execution of any peasants who might be trying to lead a revolt.  Likewise, Alessandra tells you on page one that she murdered the last boy who loved her and left her, but also is very friendly with two very nice ladies at the court, helps them with the gentlemen they’re courting, and doesn’t judge at all when one of her friends says she wants to save sex for after marriage (Alessandra herself is WELL experienced in these matters).  Our “heroes” are both admirable and despicable and sometimes I had trouble reconciling the two sides.  This isn’t a book that is going to call them out for their actions or see them reform.  Perhaps this tact is just to prove that we’re all complicated people, but really, killing peasants is just bad form.

THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US is described in its dedication as a “Slytherin romance” and that nicely sums up the dynamic at play.  At the heart of the story are two people falling in love and learning to respect one another and realize that maybe they don’t have to be alone.  Do these two people have points in the “evil leader” category? 100% Do they have enough redeeming qualities to make you root for them?  I found they did, which is why I flew through the last 100 pages and clutched my heart at the finale.  Your mileage may vary, but I, for one, was happy to see this power couple.

 

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