The Crowded Shadows: Characters are inflamed and angsty, but I’m just bored

fantasy book reviews Celine Kiernan The Moorehawke Trilogy 2. The Crowded Shadowsfantasy book reviews Celine Kiernan The Moorehawke Trilogy 2. The Crowded ShadowsThe Crowded Shadows by Celine Kiernan

I was hoping that the pace of The Moorehawke Trilogy would pick up once Razi, Christopher, and Wynter left the castle but, alas, this story continues to crawl at a glacial pace. In The Crowded Shadows, the three friends wander the forest with no plan but to find Prince Alberon (somewhere among thousands of acres) so they can hear his side of the story — why is he rebelling against his father? While they traipse about the forest, they spend a lot of time eating, fishing, sleeping, occasionally bathing, and becoming emotionally unstable.

Soon they realize that there are other people sneaking around in the forest who shouldn’t be there (thus the name The Crowded Shadows) and Razi, Christopher, and Wynter spend their days wondering what these people are doing and fighting, hiding from, spying on, running away from, and even helping those they meet. Is Alberon gathering the kingdom’s enemies so he can lead them to overthrow the King? (If so, I wonder why these sneaky people are shouting their passwords and announcing their plans loud enough for Wynter to hear?)

I mentioned the sluggish plot in my review of The Poison Throne, but that book got away with it because the characters were so endearing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in The Crowded Shadows. I’ve lost all respect for Wynter, who was a strong independent young woman in the first book but is now an emotional basketcase. She has a screaming fit when someone asks if she’d like some tea to ease her menstrual cramps — because women are supposed to be discreet and private — yet she spends most of this book hanging all over Christopher, lying next to him at night with her arm around him, pawing at him, putting her hand on his thigh, combing his hair, asking him if he’s okay, and calling him “Love.” (Puke.) She blatantly tells him that she wants to sleep with him, he says he feels the same, then, although they sleep next to each other every night… nothing happens. He’s got his back to her and she’s got her arm around him, stroking his stomach. This is the same Christopher who was raging hormones and jumping all the serving girls back in The Poison Throne; suddenly, he’s a prude. I never met a guy like that and if I were Wynter, I’d seriously be checking myself for bad breath or body odor. Neither of these characters’ actions (Wynter throwing herself at him and Christopher saying it’s “forever” but never mustering up any motivation) rings true. We’re supposed to understand that they’re just too tired or in pain, or (later) that Chris has a deep dark secret that inhibits him, but this strange behavior is clearly meant to increase and drag out the sexual tension, and it’s not working for me because it’s completely unbelievable. If I were Wynter, I’d be mortally offended, embarrassed, and moving on.

Christopher, meanwhile, who was direct and open during The Poison Throne, has suddenly become mysterious and brooding to the point that the reader becomes confused — along with Wynter and Razi — about what’s going on. It would make much more sense for Christopher to actually tell his friends why they need to be careful or why they must immediately leave the people they’ve just met (or whatever) instead of begging them to just believe him. I think this is supposed to be mysterious and suspenseful, but really it’s just confusing and aggravating.

Most insufferably, the plot did not advance in The Crowded Shadows. It ended where it began with nothing happening except that we learned more about Christopher and the culture he came from. The important plot could have been condensed to one chapter and we could have skipped this middle book. I can understand why many readers like this series — it’s emotional and character-driven — but I’m impatient with the slow pace and all the drama. All the characters are inflamed and angsty, but I’m just bored.

If Kate Rudd, the audiobook reader, was likewise bored, she didn’t let on. Her performance was excellent.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Sorry you find this one so sluggish. I did enjoy both the books. I think I fell for the characters and the ideas behind them and the story.

    And I think I really loved this one as I learned about a new culture here in the world. And the characters really stood out to me here. They really where taken out of their normal elements and had to figure out what to do, even with the mistakes they made.

    But, no book is for everyone. :) Glad you gave them a try though.

  2. Hi Mel, I can understand why readers like this if they connect with the characters (which I did in the first book). I think I would have liked it better when I was a teenager, actually. I am just too impatient now and I want the plot to move. There was too much angst between the characters and not enough plot for me. I’m glad you liked it! Did you read the last book?

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