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

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsChristopher, 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.

~Kat Hooper


The Crowded Shadows by Celine KiernanI’ve never attempted to write a trilogy, or even to outline one, so I’m unable to say why second books in trilogies are so difficult to do well. In fact, I’m rather hard pressed to come up with a single trilogy in which the second book was excellent in and of itself — and I don’t except Tolkien or Pullman from that judgment. Celine Kiernan’s MOOREHAWKE TRILOGY is no exception to the unfortunate rule that a second book must simply present information that a reader must have in order to understand how the trilogy resolves, but can do little more.

The main characters of The Crowded Shadows spend most of the first half of the book wandering about a forest, ostensibly with the intent of finding King Jonathon’s son, Alberon, and determining why he has rebelled against his father and to resolve their differences, if possible. Wynter, the Protector Lady and the character from whose point of view the story is told, meets up with Razi, the king’s older but illegitimate son, and his friend, Christopher, in a sufficiently dramatic way in the early pages of the book. They then spend nearly one hundred pages riding around, trying to avoid danger in the shape of the Loups Garous, apparently a band of villains who take slaves wherever they can find them — and who are responsible, as we learned in the first book, The Poison Throne, for Christopher’s enslavement and injuries. Ultimately they meet up with the Merron, a group of people who bear some resemblance to the Irish in our world — though I hasten to add that the resemblance seems to be mostly physical and a matter of language. The differences between this group and the present-day Irish are otherwise immense, principally because this tribe is pagan, and its rituals are critical to the story.

Christopher was originally one of the Merron, and is adopted into this tribe after they have a serious run-in with the Loups Garous. This short-lived battle gives us some information about Christopher that is dropped into the story and left to lie with no explanation whatsoever, one of the many annoyances contained in this volume. Another is that there are several conflicts and misunderstandings that could be avoided if only one or more of the characters would simply explain things to the others. Instead, the plot plays out with great anguish involved to those who could have been spared it. A third problem is that the author continues to tease her audience with the idea of a relationship between Christopher and Wynter, but never manages to bring the relationship to life. How many times can two people share the same bed and not have sex? Since we’ve already learned in the first book that Christopher is an especially sexual male, and we know that he is an older teenager besides, this is hard to fathom — especially since Wynter tends to offer herself up on a platter. No matter how tired from the road these people are, it is unrealistic for Wynter to have reached the end of The Crowded Shadows with her virginity intact.

The Crowded Shadows is at least one-third longer than it needed to be. Things happen at a glacial pace until one reaches the final one hundred pages, when the plot finally takes off and we learn who the Merron are and what they are in Jonathon’s kingdom for — and what they must sacrifice to make a new home for themselves.

I remain unconvinced that this trilogy is principally intended for young adults, despite the age of the protagonist and the characters close to her. Yes, there is no explicit sex, but sex scenes rarely play out well in science fiction and fantasy in any event, no matter the intended audience; and there is a high quotient of violence that would prevent me, at least, from offering these books to a middle-school-aged child. Adults will likely find this a quick and decent read, though they will be impatient to get to the meat of the story. I hope for more in the third book in the series, The Rebel Prince.

A final note on this edition of the book: whoever was charged with proofreading this book (assuming anyone was) did a terrible job. Misspellings abound, and punctuation often goes missing. There is no excuse for such unprofessional practice from a major publisher like Orbit.

~Terry Weyna


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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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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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2 comments

  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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