The Shadow Reader and The Shattered Dark by Sandy Williams are the first two books in an urban fantasy trilogy that splits its time between the human world and the Realm, where the fae live. Our main character is McKenzie Lewis, a human college student with the ability to read the shadows of where fae fissure (teleport) to. This skill is so rare that the king of the Realm, who hates humans, calls upon her regularly.
The first book starts with McKenzie trying to finish a college final for the umpteenth time. She repeatedly fails her classes due to fae business. Kyol, who can keep himself hidden from humans, just pops up in her class, and tells her they need to run because the rebels have found out her location. Kyol is the kings head sword master, aka the head of security, and since McKenzie is a valuable asset, he’s sent to keep her safe. Kyol doesn’t mind being sent to fetch her though; they’ve secretly been in love for ten years. As they’re running to safety the rebels grab McKenzie and take her hostage.
The king hates humans and everything that they represent. He doesn’t allow human objects and technology into his realm. Kyol and McKenzie can never be together by the king’s decree, and are forced to keep their love a secret. They only see each other when the king allows it and never move pass kissing. I know this is supposed to be dramatic but dude come on, Kyol obviously loves his kingdom more than he loves McKenzie and she should have cut her losses years ago.
The rebels don’t like McKenzie because she has been helping the king track them down and kill them. McKenzie doesn’t know that, she thinks they’re just being arrested, and then she’s sad because she’s the reason that people are dead. You’re introduced to lots of different characters in these two books but there are only three that Williams seems to care about, Kyol, McKenzie, and Aren, a rebel. Other characters are introduced but you never seem to be given any reason to care about them, they die or live and whichever one doesn’t seem to matter.
Throughout the first book McKenzie tries to escape the rebels multiple times, it’s great. She knows Kyol won’t stop looking for her but she’s not waiting for him to find her either. It’s a nice dose of girl power. After a few escape attempts Aren decides that what she needs is to really understand the rebels cause. They start to teach her the language of the fae, the king forbids humans to know their language, so even though she’s been in and out of their world for over a decade she never truly knows what is going on. Whenever she went to the kings court it was perfectly normal for her to just sit in a corner and wait for someone to tell her what was going on.
Half-way through the first book she and Aren decide they’re in love with each other. “Why?” you ask. Because LOVE TRIANGLE!!! No book these days is complete without a love triangle. Heaven forbid there be a female character that knows more than one male character and doesn’t fall in love with them all. It’s very abrupt, one moment they hate each other and then the next Cupid’s arrow strikes. Love triangles are the worst thing in the entire world, want to make a book suck add a love triangle. In the end of the first book Williams fixed the love triangle, she fixed it, and what does she do in the next book? She fucks it all up again! Who read that and said “that’s great, go with that”?
Can we stop having books where there are two men, one aloof but caring, and the other a dashing rogue? I’m tired of these love triangles. Listen up folks if someone doesn’t want to be with you, don’t wait around. Or if you think one of the guys is a jerky criminal don’t date him either. Yes, maybe he needs someone to love him or whatever or maybe he just needs a ton of therapy. How about a healthy relationship? Can we have one of those?
The ending of the second book completely soured me towards the entire series and any other books Williams may write in the future. It felt as though through she couldn’t come up with enough of a plot for the final book of the series so she just decided to add more angst. I would recommend reading the first book of this series and then pretending the rest of it doesn’t exist.
Does it pass the Bechdel test?
The Shadow Reader
The Shattered Dark