The Shadow Reader is Sandy Williams’ debut novel and the first in the new McKenzie Lewis series. If this book is any indication, I anticipate great things from Williams and this series in the future. I enjoyed The Shadow Reader immensely.
McKenzie is a human woman with a talent that makes her invaluable to the fae. She is a shadow reader, which means that when a fae teleports, she can map where that fae has traveled to. There are other shadow readers, but McKenzie is an unusually good one. As a teenager, she was recruited to help King Atroth’s Court win a war. Now, ten years later, the Court still calls upon her services… and it’s taken a toll on McKenzie’s life. Her family has written her off as crazy. Her college degree is taking far longer than it was supposed to. And her forbidden flirtation with Kyol Taltrayn, the King’s sword-master, keeps McKenzie’s love life on hold. She’s ready to retire as a shadow reader, finish her education, and live a normal human life.
Then she’s kidnapped by rebel leader Aren Jorreb, who also needs a shadow reader, and everything changes. McKenzie is attracted to Aren, but at first figures it’s Stockholm syndrome. (May I just mention how refreshing it is that McKenzie even considered the possibility of Stockholm syndrome? I’ve read way too many books where the whole romance seemed to be rooted in it, yet it was never really examined.) But Aren has some unsettling information for her, information that leads her to wonder whether she’s been on the wrong side of the war all along.
This is a love triangle for readers who are sick of love triangles. Why? Because this is a good one. The question is not just who’s more handsome or makes McKenzie’s heart beat faster. McKenzie is not just deciding between two men but two worldviews and two versions of the truth. If one man is telling the truth, the other is guilty of horrible things, and vice versa — and really, no one’s hands are clean in this war. McKenzie is a fierce heroine, not necessarily in the combat sense, but in her determination to seek the truth, stick to her own sense of ethics, and maintain her self-respect. She’s strong in the face of psychological pressures that would break a lot of people, and it’s great watching her forge her own path that isn’t quite what either of her suitors has in mind for her.
McKenzie’s struggles play out both in her own psyche and in Williams’ well-realized setting. It can take a little while to get one’s bearings in the fae world Williams has created, but she does a terrific job of making that world feel fleshed-out and lived-in. One gets the sense of a rich history and geography in the background, even if McKenzie only sees a small sampling of it in this first book. I was reminded both of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever universe and C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul in terms of the setting.
The Shadow Reader kept me turning pages frantically, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about how much I wanted to be reading it and finding out what happened next or what new truth would be revealed. I had a lot of fun with The Shadow Reader and can’t wait to read more about McKenzie.