Shadow Kin by M. J. Scott
Shadow Kin: A Novel of the Half-Light City
While worldbuilding is always important in science fiction and fantasy, I’m coming to realize just how important it is to paranormal fantasy in particular. So many of them are based in well known myths (those of vampires, werewolves, etc.) that creativity in their presentation will often make or break a book. Shadow Kin uses strong worldbuilding to create a compelling society where humans and non-humans mingle freely.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“On one side, the Night World, ruled by the Blood Lords and the Beast Kind. On the other, the elusive Fae and the humans, protected by their steadfast mages…
Born a wraith, Lily is a shadow who slips between worlds. Brought up by a Blood Lord and raised to be his assassin, she is little more than a slave. But when Lily meets her match in target Simon DuCaine, the unlikely bond that develops between them threatens to disrupt an already stretched peace in a city on the verge of being torn apart…”
Scott’s worldbuilding is the novel’s strongest point. Readers mostly get to see the vampire society. In this world, vampires and humans mingle freely, and there are some tantalizing hints as to some legal ramifications of consorting with them. Within this shadowy world, there are power struggles and specific ways of interacting, and it’s something that I hope to see more of in future novels.
There are other races here too. Shapeshifters appear, but they aren’t given much page time. The Fae also appear and are more prominent. Given that Lily is part Fae, it does make more sense to focus on them. For the most part, the Fae as a group are also “offscreen”, but much of their behavior is played out through Bryony, a Fae healer. I liked her crotchety, touchy temperament and what it said about her people and how they view the world.
There is one thing that I think could have been improved upon, and that’s the pacing. Scott wastes no time in diving into the novel’s romance aspect, getting her main characters into contact within the first ten pages. While I can certainly understand the desire to start establishing characters immediately, to me it felt abrupt. I think it would have worked better to show Lily returning from a successful assassination and interacting with her vampire master before sending her to Simon. Because of the pacing in the early chapters, I had a little difficulty getting into the novel. Once the pacing smooths out, the novel improves measurably.
Basically, I think this book just has a few small first-time-author mistakes. The worldbuilding and plot more than make up for the learning curve in this case. I’ll be keeping an eye on Scott to see where she takes this series in the future. Shadow Kin offers a unique city populated by enough strange and wondrous beings to satisfy any urban fantasy fan.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 16, 2011.