The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine (Ravenspire #1)
Published February 16, 2016 by Balzer + Bray, 387 pp.
A dark epic fantasy inspired by the tale of Snow White, from C. J. Redwine, the author of the Defiance series. Perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Cinder.
Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.
In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic of his own—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman—and bring her Lorelai’s heart.
But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.
How goes it?
The charm of retellings has yet to fade on me, and I’m always on the lookout for more (hit me with recs!), so here’s another addition to my shelves! This book is in the middle ground for me – not bad, but I feel like there is untapped potential in it.
The Shadow Queen is a Snow White retelling, following Lorelai in her quest to overthrow Irina and reclaim her place as Ravenspire’s true queen. In the neighbouring kingdom of Eldr, Kol finds himself the reluctant king when his family is killed on the battlefront. With magic-wielding ogres threatening Eldr, he needs to fight fire with fire – and the closest source is Ravenspire’s queen. In exchange for Eldr’s protection, Kol is tasked with getting back the princess’ heart. Complications arise, loyalties are tested, and Lorelai’s mardushka mettle is tested when she and Irina face each other in a battle that can only end when one of them dies.
I really wanted to love this. As it is, I actually think it’s pretty epic, if I lay out the elements – a princess who is actually pretty cool, an evil queen bent on keeping power, magical battles, and last but not least, DRAGONS. Dragons you guys.
But I guess it’s in the details, because overall, it’s… Flat? Unemotional? The characters continually find themselves in situations that should draw my sympathy or make me feel something but it doesn’t. For example, Kol is the spare heir – he’s done trying to earn the approval of his father, and has instead resorted to putting up a façade of carefree abandon. At the end of one of his grand parties he expects to face his father’s disapproval again, but is instead greeted by terrible news: his family is dead. Suddenly he has the fate of an entire kingdom on his shoulders and… That’s that. Seriously you guys at this juncture I feel so callous because I can’t muster up any feelings towards Kol – I mean the guy just lost his family and here I am feeling nothing? It’s just not done.
I think one of the things that really kept me from being emotionally invested in this is the pacing – when we first meet Lorelai she’s just trying to slowly build her support base by ransacking the village warehouses where the queen stores the produce for tax collection, but suddenly (I can’t remember how) they step it up and plan a Grand Gesture for the queen to know that Lorelai is alive and kicking and ready to take her place Ravenspire’s true queen.
And from there it’s just nonstop – the magical tug of war between Irina and Lorelai, Kol and his friends suddenly thrown into the equation, an unexplored Irina and Viktor subplot – that I can’t appreciate any of this.
Lorelai is a good heroine – she has her priorities straight, has everyone’s best interests at heart, and does the best she can in the situations she finds herself in, but I will concede that she feels a bit Mary Sue-ish. Her powers develop out of nowhere, with no training (Gabril only trains her brother and her in physical stuff), and is the only match for Irina.
Speaking of Irina, she is a horrible villain. Or she just has this one layer to her (two, if you count her tender feelings towards Viktor) that isn’t effective in drawing out that villainy in her. In most of her internal dialogue she comes off as a spoiled and entitled lady, which is terrible, but not very villainous. Irina keeps on talking about Ravenspire should’ve been rightfully hers, about how her younger sister Tatiyana took everything, about how Lorelei betrayed her – lady stop whining, start using your mardushka powers to wreak real havoc, and I’m not just talking about seeping life out of everything. Seriously, Irina could’ve been a much more effective villain if she wasn’t so flat as a character.
The romance is okay, I can understand how it could’ve developed between Lorelai and Kol, and there were moments in the book I did like. Just don’t expect to be swept off your feet.
Overall this isn’t one of the worst retellings I’ve read – I’d say it could actually be a pretty good one, but the elements didn’t have that spark for me. This is much better than the other Snow White retelling I read; the Lunar Chronicles are somewhere in my future. Hopefully for somebody else this holds a much stronger appeal!