Thursday, July 19, 2018

Revolution, Empire, and Dragons: Review of Jeffrey Bardwell's 'Hidden Revolt'


Title: Hidden Revolt
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (#3)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / YA 
Pages: 346
Publisher: Twigboat Press

What Goodreads has to say:

Would you lead a revolution for psychotic criminal mages? 

The Iron Empire is ripe for revolt. The guilds are repressive, the price of dragon rum and steaks are soaring. The mage menace spreads unchecked. Resentment builds. One day a young hero struts into the capital . . . and vows to smash the imperial palace with dragon power. 

Devin, more artifice than mage with his mechanical foot, returns to the empire, his nemesis Captain Vice in hot pursuit. The firebrand mage stirs the passions of imperial citizens under the guise of dragon conservation. Are they not all like slabs of dragon flesh: once powerful and mighty, but the empire bleeds them until nothing remains but bones and ruptured organs? The message resonates. A rebellion is born in secrecy and treachery. Beneath their cloaks of lies and shifting alliances, mages, gentry, and commoners alike reach for the mantle of the shattered dragon while Captain Vice's iron fist slowly closes around them. 

Rise up and smash the state in Book Three of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

What I have to say:

In answer to that first question: Honestly I'd lead a revolution for just about anybody, I'm just looking for an excuse to revolt.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's take a look at the most epic Author's Note in the history of books I've read. Here's how it ends:
"So [Hidden Revolt] isn't really Les Mis with dragons. All right, no more dissembling: it's totally Les Mis with dragons (if early nineteenth century Paris was the capital of an evil steampunk empire.) C'est la vie."
If that was a bribe, I'll take it. Your book is now getting at least a four-tree review, Jeffrey Bardwell.

So anyway, I love Les Mis. I love revolution. I love dragons. Hidden Revolt had it all.

That said, I'm not sure it beats Rotten Magic, which remains my favorite in the Artifice Mage Saga. Still, it's pretty fun.

Things get progressively darker, grittier, and more chaotic as the Artifice Mage Saga continues, definitely proving that nobody's hands are clean. (Honestly, NOBODY has clean hands in this series, except for maybe sweet little Styx, but I'm sure that's only temporary.)

Speaking of Styx -- the wooden automaton given life by Devin -- how much more awesome can you get than Frankenstein, Les Mis, steampunk, dragons, and revolution all in the same book?????

Excuse me as I try to (momentarily) stop being such a literary nerd (English majors die hard).

Let's talk about Devin, the artifice mage himself. This book is a turning point for him. K, maybe I could also have said that about the last two books, because every moment seems to be a turning point for Devin, he's just turbulent in general. But this is the book where he really seems to start growing up. He realizes some things. He learns some lessons. He starts to grow humble. (He's not entirely there yet, but we'll give him credit for making progress, at least.)

The proof comes toward the end of Hidden Revolt, when Devin faces a dragon and has a sudden moment of self-awareness: "All those other scaly beasts in the sky and yet here you are, alone. You hunt alone. You live alone. I used to be like you." In the next moment, Devin calls to his boss band of revolutionary mage ninjas (like seriously, that's kind of what they are), and together they fight the dragon. Devin's realized it doesn't pay to fight alone. Perhaps he's not quite the dragon-boy after all -- or at least, not anymore.

If I have any gripe with Hidden Revolt, it's the same one I had about the last book in the series (Broken Wizards), and it's a weakness I'm very sensitive to because it's something I struggle with as a writer of fiction. These characters talk too much. In some moments, that's fine, because part of the point is that they can't get their revolution off the ground because they just go around in circles talking. But when the characters are trying to escape from the emperor's prison, or facing a humongous fire-breathing dragon, having a leisurely conversation doesn't feel natural.

Luckily, with a little unintended help from the emperor, Devin and his friends do manage to get their revolution off the ground, and I assume the next book in the Artifice Mage series will address this thought-provoking question which Devin ponders mid-way through Hidden Revolt:

"Can people who just spent all their energy tearing something down suddenly turn around and start building?"
We'll see if Devin's dragon revolution can succeed where so many others have failed. We'll also see whether or not Armand Delacourt Vice is still alive and if so, whether or not he's eventually going to commit suicide by... I don't know... jumping off a bridge.

Meanwhile, can someone please write a straight-up version of Les Mis with dragons? It's now the story I never knew I always wanted.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Tomorrow never comes in R.E. Palmer's 'The Never Dawn'

The Never Dawn (The Never Dawn #1)

Title: The Never Dawn
Series: The Never Dawn (#1)
Author: R.E. Palmer
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Publisher: FrontRunner Publications
Pages: 352 pages

What Goodreads has to say:

All his young life, Noah has longed to see the sky he's only heard about in stories. For over one hundred years, Noah's people have toiled deep beneath the Earth preparing for The New Dawn – the historic day when they will emerge to reclaim the land stolen by a ruthless enemy. 

But when Rebekah, the girl of his forbidden desire, discovers a secret their leader has been so desperate to keep, Noah suspects something is wrong. Together, they escape and begin the long climb to the surface. But nothing could prepare them for what awaits outside.

What I have to say:

In a nutshell? I loved it.

OK, I'll say a little more.

This is a YA dystopian novel, with a similar feel to The Giver. There's also a definite Biblical element, conjured up by the Biblical names (Noah, Rebekah, Abraham, etc.) and the building of the "Ark." I thought that element was put to very good use, serving as a sort of touchstone that strengthened the narrative and lent it more power. I found this story engaging, gritty, and thought-provoking.

Noah, the protagonist, is a great character: sympathetic, relatable, and developing over the course of the story. As a reader, I found it very easy to get behind him, think what he was thinking, and feel what he was feeling. I liked that he was vulnerable, and very much a young adult, with all of the emotional confusion that entails. All the characters seemed very real and true to life, which helped me immerse myself in the story and really care about the characters. 

While we're talking author appreciation, here's something I am very grateful for: R.E. Palmer excels at dealing with PG-13 scenes in a way that doesn't make me want to close the book and go vomit. His technique is to leave most to your imagination, which, as good storytellers know, often proves more effective. There were a few moments in this story where I started to get a little nervous, thinking it was about to get really inappropriate, but the author didn't go there. The scene either turned out differently than the way I'd anticipated, or cut off before things got really messy. As a result, the story felt dark and gritty, but it never actually made me uncomfortable in that kind of way. I very much appreciate that.

Another thing I appreciate? That gut-twister of an ending! Whew. OK. Anyway.

This book isn't just black and white, and it's not the dystopian story you think you know. Let me clarify: you may think it's the dystopian story you know for the first 95% of the book, but then the author just rips the bottom out from under you. It's fantastic.

I was hooked on The Never Dawn from the beginning to the final page. If you're a fan of gripping, well-told YA dystopian fiction with a twist, I definitely recommend it.


Until tomorrow (if tomorrow ever comes).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Second books and second chances: Guest post from Ant Richards, author of 'Damned If I Don't'

Well hello there. Long time no see. 

(Unless you were just on here yesterday, IDK, I promise I'm not a stalker.)

This week, we've got a guest post from author Ant Richards. Learn about the process behind his new collection of short stories, Damned If I Don't, and decide if you're secure enough in yourself to crack it open....

They left the building hand in hand and walked towards Matt’s car; Mel blushing and Matt feeling like a million dollars.

‘This is my beauty,’ Matt announced, proud as they reached to where he had parked his car.

Mel was impressed at the sight, mainly for the wrong reasons. The car, a ’82 Ford Fiesta, had certainly seen better days. With a few small dents here and there, a few minor scratches and signs of rust around the wheels, it resembled its owner; juvenile, rough on the edges, with a European flair to it, defiant, rebellious, yet cute and loveable.

Matt opened the passenger door for Mel and invited her in.

‘So Mel, what do you think, the pinnacle of class and sophistication, eh?’

‘Reminds me of you,’ she replied all giggly.

‘It’s all I can afford at the moment,’ he had replied embarrassed.

Immediately, Mel pushed up the lock under the window and made as if she was about to open the door and get out of the car.

‘What are you doing?’ Matt feared his battered, little, un-American car had scared her off.

‘You see, I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to ride in the car or help you push it.’
"The Full Circle"

Running naked, splashing the warm foam of the recently crashed wave on the sand on a sunny summer morning is priceless. Accidentally stepping on a hole, you could have sworn wasn’t there and falling face first on the sand is, well, stupid. But that’s the way it ends. All the time.

Jimmy Kerr’s eyelids feel heavy, dry, and grainy. Nevertheless, he still makes the effort. As his eyes adjust to the dimly lit room, he sadly realises nothing has changed. Same dream. Same ending. 

Repeatedly and ruthlessly cruel.

Has another day passed?

Just an hour?

He couldn’t care less. There is no way of knowing, so why bother?
"The Sentence"

While wrecking my brains trying to complete what would become my debut novel In Your Dreams, finding the time, the inspiration, and basically, the will to continue writing, I came across loose ideas to add to the storyline.

As sometimes happens, they didn’t necessarily fit in with the original story I was working on, but after discarding a few ideas, I decided to keep some of them as they came along in my head. At the time, I had joined Wattpad, and then it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to turn these loose ideas into short stories. That way, besides being a good writing exercise, and a way to churn out more ideas to add to In Your Dreams, it could be a good way to showcase my writing to other Wattpad members, and start growing an audience in preparation for my first book’s release.

In Your Dreams was released in July 2014, and in between trying to market that title and life getting in the way, I continued developing these short stories. I must have had three or four by that time.

I then decided that this collection of tales could be my second release.

Working on these short stories I believe really helped develop my writing style, and taught me that there was no need for clever, complicated words to convey an entertaining and easy-to-understand message. It was a great learning curve that taught me that simple is usually more effective.

I explore various different genres with these stories, always however, keeping a few common aspects. In each story, irrespective of its genre, there is an element of dark humour, regret, false hope at times, but ultimately, a moment of lost opportunity. Oh, and the South East London element of some of my characters or locations. Damned If I Don’t, therefore, became a fitting title for these tales.

Life is a journey of opportunities, decisions, and tests. The means and tools are scattered throughout our life and it’s up to us to decide which we use or which we ditch. More often than not, we will decide on the outcome depending on what choices we make and what risks we take.

So, if you love short tales packed with romance, suspense, dramas, South East London gangsters, speakeasies in Spanish beach towns, bad decisions, even worse behaviour, a ruthless enforcer and a missing cell phone then you shouldn’t miss reading Damned If I Don’t. After all, what can possibly go wrong?

It’s available on Amazon in e-book and paperback format.

But hurry, you won’t always get a second chance.

Ant Richards

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Confusion, Catastrophes and Carnivores (no really I feel like a lot of people almost get eaten)



Author: Mark Marrison
Published: February 21, 2018 by Mark Morrison

Goodreads summary: Sarah and her twin brother Jon are heirs to an ancient magical realm and its most valuable treasure, an enchanted library. The library endows readers with the supernatural means of crossing into the uncharted inner-sanctum of the second dimension, inhabited with peculiar and sometimes perilous creatures. 

The children are emboldened with a wondrous mystical gift that no other being has ever possessed. But fate intervenes and triggers a disastrous inter-dimensional war that disrupts the fabric of time and space spanning multiple universes, tearing destiny a new and savage pathway. 

The two must rescue their world from a phantom hybrid alien race controlled by a demented dark-wizard, Jeremy Sermack. They will either assimilate or be exterminated. 

Will they be the saviors the prophets spoke of, or will they retreat to the perceived safety of their distant homeland?

My Thoughts:

This is a really good idea for a story. The plot is complex and the characters are likable. Mysteries abound throughout the book. The idea of a magical library where you can enter the books is fantastic, and I loved the descriptions of TwoSpells and the magic creatures that dwell within or roundabouts.

I liked that Tornado Abaddon was easily bought off with pickles, and that Sarah and Jon acted like 13 year olds.

I liked that the woodworm Boose was also sweet, this was a theme throughout the story that animals are often just misunderstood, not inherently evil, and can learn to be kind and tame.

However, I got lost lots of times and had no idea what was going on. Characters seemingly appeared out of no where, and others were lost just as easily. Characters also adapted to magical creatures with an ease that was uncanny. For instance, take the drive to the grandparents home. Percy (the Mom's boyfriend) is driving and while in the car the family experiences multiple phenomenon that seem as if they will be explained later, but aren't. Was that a werewolf? Did Percy get bit? Why in the world were they suddenly back in time, and why did an arrow penetrate the side of their car???

Things at the house are also strange, the missing mirrors is never explained, and neither is Clyde's betrayal (at least not thoroughly). Once the family gets to TwoSpells things go into overdrive. Catastrophe after catastrophe occur back-to-back-to-back with no time for breathing room or plot explanation. 

See the beginning of the book goes at a good speed, and then suddenly everything begins to happen and characters that weren't mentioned before are suddenly running amuck and there's this strange virus that I still don't understand and suddenly the bad-guy has a sidekick, and the bad-guy is also the twins dad and their mom is a monster AND I GOT SO LOST!!!! (PLEASE SEND HELP).

I mean like, things got weird. I felt like it was three stories mashed into one. Each catastrophe could've had about three more chapters and even then it might not be explainable. 

Basically I read the whole book and still don't really know why or how things happened, and did Jon really get sucked into a wormhole? Because it was kind of unclear, and I don't know about you but if any of my siblings got sucked into a blackhole, I would be a wreck for days, and not be as cool and rational as Sarah was. 

So overall, this story has A LOT of potential, good characters and a great setting, but everything needs to be expanded. Things need explaining (like where in the freak did Jeremy come from) and emotions need to be better expressed (looking at you Sarah), this book could really be great if given more attention and care.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

In which Erin questions her own sanity after reading Jeffrey Bardwell's Rotten Magic rewrite

Title: Rotten Magic
Series: The Artifice Mage Saga (#1)
Author: Jeffrey Bardwell
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk / YA 
Publisher: Twigboat Press

"It's their hidden fire we fear, that horrible force waiting to burst out. But they're not monsters. They're human beings lost in their own power." - Rotten Magic


Would you sacrifice your future to practice magic?

Artificers are the gilded princes of the Iron Empire. Mages are violent criminal outcasts. Devin competes to become the best artificer in the empire . . . but he's secretly a mage.

All the apprentices in the Artificer's Guild compete by building crude prototypes of powered armor for mock battles. When Devin transforms himself into a mechanical dragon to slaughter the competition, his rival Benson steps into the role of dragon slayer. But Devin's secret grows heavier as he claws his way to the top. He's started hearing eerie voices in his head: the stout words of the being he calls 'the artificer' and the oily voice of 'the mage.' How long can Devin be satisfied with fake dragon armor when the promise of true arcane power whispers in his ear?

Embark on Devin's dark epic journey in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.


If you're thinking, "Hey, wait, didn't she already review this book?" The answer is "yes and no." 

Previously on this blog, I reviewed Rotten Magic 1.0

This is Rotten Magic 2.0. 

I thought the first one was pretty perfect when I read it, so when the author (Jeffrey Bardwell) asked me if I'd like to review a "new and improved" version, I was all on board. But I was a little dubious. How could anyone improve on the fast-paced, delightfully dark story of metal and mages that was Rotten Magic 1.0? 

Regardless, I gave it a read.

I. Loved. It.

Guys, Rotten Magic 2.0 is even better than the first version!

The main story is still intact, as are the characters. There's just more of it, and of them. 

The biggest change from version 1 to 2 occurs in the character of Drusilla: Devin's best friend and fellow apprentice artificer. In version 1, she's more of a minor character. In 2, she's one of the story's two narrators (the other is Devin). 

In my opinion, Drusilla's vamped up role and voice add a lot to the story. It's cool to compare her background, personality, and attitude with Devin's, and it's nice to get a female narrator along with the male one - it brings dimension and depth. Drusilla also comes from a sympathetic background: her family is poor and her father is abusive. 

That said, I'm a little perplexed over Drusilla's actions at the end of the story. Encouraging Devin to free himself by exposing his mage powers to the Black Guards seems like a very roundabout way of helping out your best friend. That said, it's such an insane chain of reasoning that I kind of dig it. (Petition for Drusilla to return in a future book where we realize she's completely nuts.)

Even if she's not bonkers, it's conceivable that the pressures of being an artificer apprentice, together with the stressful time of year (it's evals), her troubled home life, and her frustrations over Devin's actions would drive her to think in illogical ways. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't see any sane person doing what Drusilla did to Devin; but I can buy it if Drusilla herself is a little off.

Now that I think of it, she's not the only one. Devin is constantly struggling to remain in control of himself and his powers (this is another element of the book that I love and could probably write a whole nother blog post on); and the fact that he goes along with Drusilla at the end indicates that maybe the two of them are unhinged in the same way. Drusilla's father is a bit wacko; and so is Devin's nemesis, the bully Benson. Even some of the established artificers show signs of being a little off-kilter. Shoot, is anyone in this story completely sane? 

This is partly why I love Jeffrey Bardwell's books so much: his characters are flawed. When it comes to fictional characters, I'm all about the Lokis, the Lady Macbeths, the Victor Frankensteins.

Why? These characters are just so interesting to read about. It's fascinating to get inside their heads and explore their twisted logic, or to guess at what they'll do next when every move they make is so unpredictable. Devin is a Victor Frankenstein if ever there was one. So while I compared him to Ender in my previous review (albeit a warped Ender), I'm sticking with Frankenstein here. 

Here's where I mention that this book is steampunk and fantasy, and what a delightful thing it is to get a book that's cross-genre in my two favorite categories. Thank you, Jeffrey Bardwell.

Another thing I love about this book - in both its incarnations, but especially in the second one - is its pacing. While I usually avoid reading other reviews of a book until after I've written mine, I accidentally read one on Goodreads that compared reading Rotten Magic to watching a train crash in slow motion, and boy is that accurate! I know it's all going to end in tears, but I can't tear myself away!

"We are in control of this situation. The phrase echoed through Devin's mind. For so long, I've wrestled to stay in control. And for what? ...Everything still burst into flames in the end."

Why do I find a train wreck so fascinating? Is it possible I, too, am a little sadistic? A little bit... off?

This is a book review, not a psychoanalysis session, so I'll leave it at that.


Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Why I would probably sell my soul to Rick Riordan if he asked me to

Why do I love Rick Riordan so much?

Is a question I have never asked myself because, let's be real, what's the point? Also it's just sort of obvious. Who doesn't love Rick Riordan? (OK, you can leave.)

That being said, here are a few possible reasons behind my enthusiasm for the man and his books. Feel free to share yours in the comments, or tell us your favorite Rick Riordan book and/or quote.

Rick Riordan Camp Jupiter Camp Half-Blood
(Rick Riordan's only rival is himself)

Reason 1: His books just keep getting better

Once upon a time there was this MG series called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it was like nothing else that came before it. Percy Jackson was this king of sass who was also vulnerable and had adorable friends, and they got up to all these crazy adventures involving ancient Greek monsters and gods in modern times. It seamlessly blended ancient Greece and contemporary America, and it was chalked full of originality, wit, humor, and pretty non-stop action. My favorite novel in the series was The Titan's Curse, which I read in about 24 hours, I think.

When we finished that series, with Annabeth challenging Percy to a race down the hill (ah, bittersweet memory), it kind of felt like an era in our lives had ended. But I bet you all remember reading Rick Riordan's acknowledgements at the end of the book and snagging on the line where he thanks someone for helping him with his "first Camp Half-Blood series."


And there were more. And if we thought that first series was good (it was), the next books just kept getting better and better. Sure, some of us will always have a rose-colored view of that first series, and sure, some of the following books have been better than others. But then Riordan drops something like The House of Hades, or The Hidden Oracle, or The Dark Prophecy, and it's like, "dang, Riordan, I knew you could write, but - well, dang!"

Reason 2: He throws out fabulous one liners like nobody's business

"I confess I lost track of the specifics after he explained about the exploding chain-saw Frisbees."

"You hit the Lord of the Titans in the eye with a blue plastic hairbrush."

"With great power... comes great need to take a nap. Wake me up later."

Rick Riordan is the master of one liners. His off-the-wall brand of humor is one of the things that made those first Percy Jackson books so great, and now it's become his hallmark. What other book (except the ever-present Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) contains lines of such memorable, well-aimed goofiness?

Reason 3: He is the master of the subtle art of haiku

How many of us could come up with an original, clever haiku for each chapter of a book? And then do the same thing for two more books?

Reason 4: He is the master of the subtle art of killer book dedications

You all know what I'm talking about.

Reason 5: He pretends his fans have a love/hate relationship with him but everyone knows we'd probably jump off a cliff into Hades after him

Riordan knows he has us wrapped around his finger, but he plays it cool, pretending we hate him because he's such a troll (we pretend that too, but let's be real, his trolling only makes us love him more). And he keeps giving us more of what we want, and it's pretty consistently awesome. Like how much stuff has this guy churned out, now? Not just novels, but all those things like The Demigod Files and Percy Jackson's Greek Myths. To say nothing of his other series that take place outside of Camp Half-Blood.

Reason 6: He's giving us a whole series about Apollo

'Nuf said. Now you know
Rick Riordan is our man
We love him a lot

Happy birthday, Rick Riordan! Here's to many more demigod adventures.

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Light in the Darkness

Between the Shade and the Shadow


Author: Coleman Alexander
Published: The Realmless LLC - June 21 2018

Goodreads Summary:    In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live. But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and, eventually, to kill them.  Yet, not all spritelings are born with malice—they must earn it or they are condemned. What happens then to the spriteling who finds a shadow where she shouldn’t? What happens if that particular spriteling wasn’t born with malice at all? 

Ahraia was that spriteling. She ran too close to the light and bound herself to a wolf, a more powerful shadow than any that came before it. Now a shade, her shadow marks her for greatness. But a test is coming, and the further they wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her

My Thoughts: 
     I don't know where to start with this book. It was phenomenal. The story is dark - literally, sprites, spritelings, and shades can't leave the shade or they burn. These creatures sleep in patches of homemade darkness during the day and wake once the sun has set. This story is not set in our world, the night sky holds two moons, not one. 
     At first the reader is inclined to believe that the sprites, spritelings and shades(I'm just gonna call them dark elves, okay?) are in the right. The main character is one of them after all, aren't we supposed to root for their success? No. I don't believe so. This becomes more and more apparent as the book progresses. While spritelings can be kind and loving, sprites can not. The very essence of a sprite is malice and death. Some shades turn to sprites easier than others, this is not the case for Ahraia and her shadow Losna. 
     Before becoming a shade, a spriteling must go into the woods and bind themselves to an animal - think familiar - with home they create a bond. On the night of her binding, Ahraia considers running away and never coming back, until she sees Losna. A huge black and silver wolf. They moment they meet a strong bond is formed. They bind tighter than most. And for a while everything is fine, but then things start to happen. Ahraia's mother the Astra (leader of the tribe) is cast out and replaced by another woman. Life shifts. And shifts again three years later when Ahraia's eldest sister becomes a sprite, and the sprites learn that Ahraia has not been using magic to kill as expected - Losna is instead doing the killing of food.
     On a hunt gone awry they learn that humans will be passing near a place which two of Ahraia's brothers are at. The pair rush to warn them but arrive too late. They meet a terrible evil and find the bodies of the brothers and their shades. Oh, and get seen by a human. A human who Ahraia doesn't kill on site like she should. Her other brother takes the blame for this blunder and is exiled to the shadow woods where he is quickly eaten by the Shad-mon. These sudden deaths push Ahraia to the top of her nit (group of siblings) and suddenly the Masai (queen of all dark elves) arrives and claims Ahraia as her own - a shade powerful enough to bond with a wolf is needed in her tribe. There are many protests - Ahraia is too young to become a sprite and does not want to leave her younger siblings who will die without her help. She doesn't have a choice, and so begins the shadow tests.
     The first test is to kill an innocent - an enormous elk - and to do so using her magic. But to use that magic means killing the creature while mind-melded with it, and Ahraia refuses. Instead she still manages to kill the elk with assistance from a pack of wolves. As soon as this is accomplished she plans on escaping the nit with her younger siblings, but the Masai takes Losna as prisoner and leaves. 
     The second task is to kill an enemy and take his head to the Masai where she will get to see Losna. This is perhaps where we see the most character development. Ahraia has been raised to see humans as enemies, but she finds that this is not true. While she doesn't have any positive interactions with them she recognizes their family units and decides she cannot kill one. Eventually severing the head of an already dead man.
     She arrives as the Masai's darkness longing to see her shadow only to learn that she is not allowed to be with her until the final task - killing her shadow. This is why sprites have no love and seem cold and withdrawn. A sprite is creating when a shade and shadow die. Ahraia is horrified, she will never kill Losna. Days begin to tick away as she tries to plan how to escape with Losna. Oh, also, her younger siblings were killed.
     During her stay with the Masai she learns that the Masai was behind the deaths of her siblings. A wolf-binder is powerful and a threat to the power of the Masai, so the Masai killed Ahraia's older siblings making her next in line to become a sprite. Once she was a sprite the Masai had planned to kill her. For most dark elves, this would have worked. They follow orders and do not question the chain of command or the authority that rules. Ahraia is different. Maybe because she bonded with an animal that also has a strong sense of self, family and the light. Maybe because Ahraia's spirit is a wolf just like her shadow. 
    Ahraia is caught while trying to escape and condemned to the shadow woods, and thereby death by the shad-mon. But Ahraia is not like other dark elves, she has walked in the light and been scarred and come away better for it.
    Ahraia escapes the shad-mons (yes there are two) a thing that had never before been done. Because instead of using her magic on animals to kill, she has been using her magic on plants to bend them to her needs, and to learn the paths of the forest. She outruns and outsmarts the shad-mon and then frees Losna. But, they have still to escape the prison that holds Losna. This is accomplished by fire. Fire burns dark elves, but Ahraia is not like other dark elves, and endures pain in order to survive. Finally she and Losna are almost free when they are stopped by the Masai. The most powerful Sprite there is. But she is not like Ahraia. She is strong and can bind the body, but does not think of the trees. Ahraia uses magic to call the trees and roots into action easily ripping the arms and head off the Masai. The pair then crosses back to the shadow woods.

     This is where the theme of the book and the character of Ahraia really meld. All her life she has been taught the three rules of the Shadow woods - Don't make a sound, don't touch the trees, and don't drink the water. She and Losna do the exact opposite bringing the monsters to them instead of being hunted. They attack the shad-mons showing them their lack of fear and cross unattacked through the rest of the shadow woods.

Okay, sorry that was a long synopsis. Maybe not totally necessary, but it helps me to think. Ahraia and Losna survive because they don't do everything they are told, they question orders, and learn that trying new things can work better than the old. Instead of taking life, Ahraia saves lives. Instead of fearing the day, Ahraia uses it to her advantage and finds that while it burns, it will not kill her. Instead of using animals as tools to selfish ends, Ahraia treats creatures with respect and tries to ask as little as possible. Ahraia is powerful because she does what feels right to her, not what society tells her. 

I loved this book. My review cannot do it justice. The plot was complex, but everything had a place. The characters were intense and interesting. And maybe most importantly of all, this story made me feel. I was emotionally tied to the story, I cared about the characters and I was on the edge of my seat. I read it in three days, and it's a pretty long book. If you want a complex, compelling story about the trust and love between a girl and her dog, this book is for you. And if you don't want that, read it anyway. It's fantastic.