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.

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