PJV Quickie: I want to start this review out by stating the fact that Kelley Armstrong is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is supreme in it’s craft, her characters are memorable and she crafts phenomenal worlds. But, unfortunately Armstrong’s latest trek into the world of Young Adult was a let-down. I found myself trudging through SEA OF SHADOWS, bored with most of the content and not wowed as I usually am with Armstrong’s writing. It pains me to write this.
Review: Sea of Shadows is not your typical high fantasy, even though it wanted to be. I usually like high fantasy, but unfortunately it’s not as epic as most books in it’s genre. The plot covers two sisters, Moira and Ashyn, twins. The girls are the Keeper and Seeker of the Forest of the Dead, which means they are entrusted with releasing the damned and they can talk to the spirits.
For the first time, Ashyn as the Seeker, must enter the Forest of the Dead and put to rest the souls of the exiled that were forced to enter the Forest and then subsequently died. They don’t believe in execution in the empire, so they put them in a forest where they either starve, are killed by zombies or exposure. Makes sense. On the night Ashyn enters the forest, the party is ambushed and the town is decimated, something evil has set upon the world and now Ashyn and Moira are separated and desperately searching for each other and the rest of the towns people that were taken from their town. They must travel across a wasteland to the nearest town to hopefully find help and each other.
Armstrong created a very deep story-line, typical of high fantasy, the world, the legend of the Seeker and Keeper, all sounded like they had so much potential and rich world building. The characters of Ronen, Ashyn, Moira and Gavril all had the potential to be much more, especially as the book came to it’s conclusion, but they weren’t characters that I ever connected with. Problems also arose in the implementation. It seemed like the author had this great big world that she knew all about, but she forgot to tell the reader about it. There were large gaps in the logic behind some of the myths and no explanations for a lot of things. The characters spent most of the book journeying from their town to neighboring towns, always encountering problems at every turn.
It was very reminiscent of most fantasies, we’re walking this way…then we are walking that way…but the problem was, that Armstrong forgot to tell us about some of the backstory as they meandered this way and that, flirting and pontificating about how their lives suck. The world wasn’t explained, only in passing and the empire wasn’t expounded on much, except as an afterthought. I’m sure this was done on purpose, Armstrong treated the reader as if they were already privy to the backstory to circumvent any heavy info-dumping, but it left me feeling like I was missing something. But, combine this slight confusion with the slow pacing, lackluster characters and it made for a rather boring read.
The novel didn’t come alive until the last third of the book and then it really did get good, but realistically it was too little too late, the only reason I stuck around until the end was because of the fact that this was Kelley Armstrong.
Honestly though, this didn’t seem like an Armstrong book. Her characters, which are the usual draw of Armstrong’s writing, were not the usual, in my estimation. Moira and Ashyn were just carbon copies of the typical young adult characters you find in the genre, the head-strong, impulsive ass kicker and the quiet, self-effacing, insecure youth. Then they were paired with two other typical YA male leads, the rakish bad-boy and the stoic, insulting tough-guy. I know for a fact that Armstrong can do a lot better then this, her characters usually have so much depth, it’s a shame…this book had potential and I’ll probably read on, even though I get the feeling that she might even introduce a love-triangle with Moira. How man YA tropes can we fit in here?
Again, it pains me to write this review, being a huge fan of Kelley Armstrong.
Recommendations: For fans of the author, read it anyway. Recommended for fans of young adult fantasy. There is violence and talk of mature themes, but there is nothing to be worried about.