Book Review: Shadows of Lela

Feeling a presence beside me, I lifted my head saw the white unicorn. My heart softened, my shoulders relaxed. The unicorn was so close, I knew I could touch him. I reached out a tentative hand and placed it on his mud-splattered, white coat. A calm warmth flooded me.”

Sixteen-year-old Princess Cora has a dark past she’d rather forget. She’s found peace living in exile, far from the sorcerer who murdered her family. But her safety is compromised when she discovers a deadly threat. Unicorns are being annihilated. Her kingdom could be next…

To win the affection of his heartless bride-to-be, Prince Teryn must complete a dangerous quest. Instead, he finds himself at the end of Cora’s dagger. But when he learns Cora’s secret, he’s determined to help her, whatever the cost.

Trusting Teryn might be Cora’s only hope. But doing so could risk her heart… and Teryn’s life.

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Last month was Indie April, a month for supporting independent authors and bookstores. About half-way through I made a promise on Twitter that if I reached 500 followers (I was just above 400) by the end of April, I’d buy an indie book and write a review. Well Twitter came through and then I was left with the daunting task of selecting a book from a slew of WONDERFUL suggestions.

What really drew me to Shadows of Lela was the cover art. Shout out to Merilliza Chan for the beautiful artwork. Sometimes I’d just stop reading and gaze lovingly at the cover! Haha! I also really love unicorns.

Disclaimer: I usually try not to get too spoilery in my reviews, and I don’t want to pick apart the novel, but beware there are some spoilers ahead!

Right off the bat, this book gave me Graceling and Red Queen vibes. It’s a high fantasy novel without the pretentiousness that can sometimes come with it. The book also deals with royal families and the complicated relations between them. Tessonja Odette has created a vast fantastical land full of ancient magic, lost lore, and many kingdoms.

The world building has been done really well. I found the part describing the Ancient Ones quite interesting and I would’ve loved to delve into the lore even more. I also would’ve loved more scenery descriptions. As a reader, I’ve been given this wide new world, and sometimes I felt like I couldn’t see where I was. Cora and Teryn are journeying across the land, but I wanted more descriptions of how the landscape changed as they moved into the different kingdoms. I wanted to be fully immersed.

Also, a map at the beginning of the book would’ve been a huge bonus! They’re always helpful when reading a fantasy with many different locations.

The book is written in first person POV and switches mainly between Cora and Teryn, with the occasional appearance of Teryn’s brother, Larylis, and the princess Mareleau. The characters are well-written and the separations between their points of view are distinct. So no confusion, which is great!

Reading Larylis’ and Mareleau’s POV, at least in the first half of the novel, seemed a little unnecessary, as it didn’t add much to the story. In the second half, I liked Larylis a lot more as a character and seeing his POV was much more important. Mareleau’s probably could’ve been left out completely.

Character motivations also seemed to shift very quickly, especially with Cora and Teryn. We get a first person look into their thoughts, but there isn’t much introspection when the characters are making decisions. Cora suddenly decides to leave her adoptive family of the Forest People to help the unicorns quite suddenly it seems. As well with Teryn, he leaves his quest to win Mareleau’s heart almost instantly to help Cora. These decisions make sense for the characters, but we don’t see the change of motivation in an organic way. A little more inner monologue would’ve been the key in these big moments of motivational change.

In the first half of the novel, the pacing seems a little off. We are rushed through the introduction of Cora as a princess and the introduction of the main villain. For example, we don’t get to see much of what Cora is like before she’s exiled or who the villain is before she’s exiled. And again, just as we start to see Cora’s life with the Forest People, she’s off on her quest to save the unicorns. The plot did need to keep moving, but I would’ve loved more establishment of Cora before and after her exile.

The same happened with the beginning of Teryn’s quest. It felt a little rushed, as we were trying to get to the point where Teryn and Cora meet.

The second half of the novel was better for me, pacing wise. I quite liked when we finally got down to the big conflict between Morkai, the sorcerer, and the royal families. The characters lived up to their potential, though I wanted to see Cora do a little more with her powers, especially against Morkai. But, all in all, the climax was satisfying.

I wanted the ending to be left a little more open for a little more incentive to get into the second book. It felt a little rushed as well into the conclusion that wasn’t as surprising as I was hoping.

But, it was a solid first book, with plenty to offer readers, especially those who liked Graceling and Red Queen. When I get through a few more of the books on my TBR list, I’ll probably pick up the next one.

My Favourite Bookstores

A couple weeks ago was Independent Bookstore Day and I celebrated by visiting my local bookstore, you know, as you do on Independent Bookstore Day. I promised myself I would only buy one book, but of course that quickly went out the window. I came home with two books and a pack of notebooks. Being a bibliophile is hard on one’s wallet.

I’ve been to my fair share of bookstores (not including chain stores like Chapters) over the years, most in Ontario, but some international. So, here’s a quick list of my favourite bookstores!

Starlight Books (R.I.P.) – Newmarket, Ontario

I had to start with this one because it is the sorely missed bookstore in my hometown. It was a mixture of new and used books, with many treasures to be found. The store itself was quite large, with multiple rooms and little back corners all filled with bookish adventures.

I bought my first Stephen King novels at Starlight, which started off a strange love of horror books.

The store closed down years ago now, because the lease was just too expensive and it was in the middle of the bookstore slump (thanks Amazon). I suspect if the store was open now, it would do better.

Sadly, no other independent bookstores have opened in the area, so Starlight has left quite a big hole.

Blue Heron Books – Uxbridge, Ontario

The next closest to me is my adoptive local bookstore, Blue Heron Books. It’s far enough away that I don’t get there as much as I’d like, but when I have visited, it’s been a delightful experience.

The atmosphere is so welcoming and friendly. The small(ish) store is full of books, books, and more books! It feels like a place where you could stay and browse for hours, with comfy chairs to sit on.

The bookstore hosts events of all shapes and sizes, author readings, “Books and Brunch” with local authors, and a book club. They even offer not-necessarily-book related classes in their studio.

As of this year (2019), they’re celebrating their 30th bookstore birthday! I’m super happy for them, because Blue Heron is such an amazing space. So glad the store isn’t that far away and I can pay a visit once in a while.

The Book Lady – Fenelon Falls, Ontario

A little bit farther a field is The Book Lady. This cozy little hidden gem has a wide variety of new and used treasures. It’s hard not to get absorbed by the close shelving in the fantasy/sci-fi/mystery/horror sections.

Like many bookstores, The Book Lady also offers coffee and tea and giftware for bookworms (like me)! I bought a cat and book themed mug during a visit.

I may or may not have taken a trip to Fenelon Falls JUST to visit this store…

The owner Dana Deathe (pronounced ‘deeth’), is living the dream honestly.

Read and Green Bookstore – Brighton

This bookstore was a bit of a random find on a camping trip last year. It’s a bit of a hidden gem, as Brighton isn’t that big of a place. It’s a used bookstore, which is means that it’s full of secret treasures.

The store is long and narrow and has a bit of a cozy chaotic feel, in only the way used bookstores can. There’s something magical about getting lost in the bookshelves. 

On this trip, I found a 40s vintage set of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series. 

Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights – Bath, England

This is my favourite international bookstore! It was one of the best places I got to visit in 2017 when I was in the UK for my cousin’s wedding. Bath is a wonderful city anyway and I wish we had a little more time there (the city and the bookstore).

Unfortunately, we had to be quick in Mr. B’s, so I didn’t get to fully immerse myself in the wonderland that is the store. It has a bibliotherapy room! BIBLIOTHERAPY!

But I did pick up The Power by Naomi Alderman, which was fantastic.

The place is book heaven. They offer book spa treatments and will ship personalized book subscriptions to your door. Just thinking about it makes me want to melt into a bibliophile puddle. They also host plenty of bookish events, book launches, author readings, etc.

There we have it, my favourite bookstores. If you live in Ontario, I hope this gives you some bookstore road trip ideas. Even if you’re just visiting Ontario, check these out. And if you’re ever in Bath, be sure to check out Mr. B’s… I mean it.

What are some of your favourite bookstores? I’m always looking for new recommendations, so feel free to share!