Having enjoyed Dianne Sylvan’s nonfiction in the past, I was thrilled to see she had an urban fantasy coming out. I wasn’t sure if Queen of Shadows would live up to the high expectations I’d set up in my head, but I was definitely curious to find out. My expectations were met and then some. Queen of Shadows is my favorite book of 2010 so far.
Ironically, this makes it a little hard to review. When a book reaches in and grabs me emotionally the way this one did, it can be hard to separate the reviewer from the fangirl and articulate why other people might like it too! So to get a few fangirl-type things out of the way, things that resonated with me but might not necessarily translate to every reader: First, apparently Miranda Grey and I have the same taste in music, and so the scenes where she sings are given added emotional weight by the fact that these songs were already meaningful to me. Second, I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at a pivotal point in my early adolescence and now I’m a sucker for any brooding hero who opens his impressive library to the heroine.
OK, on to the more universal reasons why Queen of Shadows is good. I love that Sylvan has given us a musician heroine in Miranda. I like both “old school” and “new school” urban fantasy, but one of the things I miss about the “old school” is the emphasis on the arts. Protagonists would often be writers, painters, musicians, etc., and this would tie in with the magical elements. I believe that art is one of the closest things to magic that we humans can do, and as much as I enjoy books about vampire slayers and PIs and bounty hunters, sometimes I just want to read about an artist again. Miranda is a musician in Austin’s bar scene, who has psychic abilities that enable her to influence the crowd’s moods. This talent helps keep her financially afloat, but also drains her, and as the story begins Miranda is wasting away and her sanity is questionable. It looks like she’s hit rock bottom… and then things get worse.
I’ll admit that I cringed when I saw a rape scene coming, not only because such scenes are wrenching to read but because I’ve too often seen them handled badly. Authors will write them in a titillating style, or they’ll subtly imply that it was the victim’s fault somehow or that it wasn’t “really” rape, or they’ll use it to create five minutes of cheap angst and then have the character just sort of forget about it for the rest of the story. Sylvan doesn’t do any of these things; she handles the attack and the resultant PTSD issues realistically and sensitively. (That’s not to even mention what happens to the assailants, which I’m not ashamed to admit gave me a feeling of vindictive glee.)
The hero, vampire ruler David Solomon, puts Miranda up in his Haven and helps her recover. He has plenty of other stuff on his plate, too, what with the rebellious vampire faction that’s trying to take him down. David has made it illegal for vampires to kill humans, but there are those still loyal to the dead former ruler, Auren, who let them slaughter at will. David is a terrific, layered character whose ethical ideals sometimes clash with the actions required of a ruler. One aspect of David I really love is that he’s a computer geek, and the fact that he’s more tech-savvy than his opposition is a big part of why he’s been able to keep his throne.
He also helps Miranda learn to control her powers. It’s so refreshing that she becomes stronger, not weaker, as she begins to fall in love, and that later when they’re separated for a time, she mopes briefly but then uses this time to do some more growing. She doesn’t start out as the usual tough-as-nails UF heroine, but nor does she stay weak throughout the story. She grows believably and builds up her physical, emotional, and psychic muscles through hard work. When she does see David again, she is able to make a choice from a position of strength, which she could not have done when she was still dependent upon him.
The twisty plot has plenty of emotional highs and lows for our characters, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be reaching for the Kleenex at the sad parts, grinning like a fool at the happy ones, and pumping your fist in the air whenever a bad guy gets what they so richly deserve. The story is pretty dark, but Sylvan breaks up the darkness with occasional humor, particularly in the dialogue. I love the secondary characters, especially David’s second, Faith, and Miranda’s friend Kat. In fact, if there’s anything in Queen of Shadows that I didn’t quite like, it’s just that I felt that Kat deserved a little more explanation of what was really going on. Even Miranda recognizes this, though, so it’s easy to imagine that this conversation occurred offscreen after the events of the book. (Whether it went well is a whole other question…)
I also enjoyed the evocative prose, which added to the depth and richness of the book, and the diversity of the cast.
If paranormal romance and urban fantasy exist on a continuum, Queen of Shadows is more toward the PNR end of that spectrum. If you just don’t like vampire romance at all, it probably won’t convert you. But if you do like vampire romance, but often find yourself disappointed in it and are looking for a book that reminds you why you liked vampire romance in the first place, you could not do better than Queen of Shadows. Moving, well-written, suspenseful, and sensual, this is a novel you won’t want to miss.