Published by HarperTeen on February 9th 2016
Sophie Jordan’s Reign of Shadows is a riff on a familiar story: a young Princess spirited away to live in a tower encounters a bad boy with a heart of gold who spurs her on a quest to save herself and take back her Kingdom. But the Kingdom of Relhok is plagued by the Blackness, a mysterious eternal darkness that covers the land. And under the cover of this darkness, foul things like the dwellers have been unearthed. The dwellers are human sized insect-like creatures that paralyze their victims and feast on their bodies; unsurprisingly, the fear of a dweller attack is strong and keeps Luna more or less trapped inside the tower.
Princess Luna lives in hiding with only her two guardians for company when a mysterious young man named Fowler happens upon their tower…changing her life forever. Luna and Fowler’s relationship develops quickly, which isn’t exactly surprising given that a) they’re keenly aware that they could be killed by dwellers or rogues at any time and b) the fact that Luna’s never met a boy before. Hell, if I’d been living in a tower for seventeen years and a hot guy stumbled into my path I’d probably go for him too.
Now I’m not ashamed to admit that I often enjoy books with a healthy number of clichés and tropes thrown in, but I expect authors to bring some originality to those clichés and tropes. Sadly, this is where Reign of Shadows fell flat for me. It has all the elements of a popular YA fantasy trilogy: a “strong” yet vulnerable heroine, a broody yet tender love interest, a kingdom at stake, and even a cute animal companion. But not a single one of these elements had that spark of originality to them.
Then again, it’s hard to write a new spin on an old fantasy trope when there’s little world building or character development to be seen. The only fantastical elements in Reign of Shadows are the eternal Blackness and the dwellers, but neither is explained. Why did the dwellers come to Relhok? Have they always been the size of people, or did the perpetual darkness change their biology somehow? And most importantly, how is it that any plants and animals (including humans) are alive at all when there’s no sunlight? I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but something feels off there.
Despite the overall predictability of Reign of Shadows, there was one very interesting reveal that completely took me by surprise. All I’ll say about that is there’s a reason why Luna is largely unaffected by the perpetual darkness – and the reason plays a very important role later in the story. However, this aspect of Luna’s character fell prey to some problematic elements with representation, namely using this characteristic to increase her “special” status. Perhaps this will be remedied as the series progresses, but as it stands I was disappointed.
Sophie Jordan writes with short, abrupt sentences, which I think might have been an effort to convey the suddenness of the violence and change that people experience during the Blackness. Unfortunately this stylistic choice didn’t work for me, and the choppiness of the writing pulled me out of the story. But I think that’s just a matter of preference.
If the story sounds like something you’d enjoy, give Reign of Shadows a shot. I think some readers may love it, but personally I expected more from both the story and the writing. There were some good ideas here but unfortunately I thought they were poorly executed.