At the height of my rekindled love for fairytales, and newfound interest in YA retellings, I came across The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine as the beautiful cover was used for the invite to the Scholastic Bloggers Book Feast and my friend Laura reviewed it shortly after as well. The story is inspired by one of my all-time favourite classic creepy tales of witches and princesses (which has a horrific ending, by the way), Snow White, and so of course I had to check this one out as soon as I could.
In the land of Ravenspire, Lorelai is the crown princess. Even though her mother has passed away, she's happy living with her father (the king), her younger brother Leo, and her stepmother Irina in the castle. Her childhood is a happy one, until she does a terrible discovery and witnesses her stepmother's true nature as Irina manipulates those around her and kills the king to become the evil queen controlling all of Ravenspire. Lorelai and Leo are whisked away by a guard who manages to avoid falling under Irina's spell, and raised far away from the wicked queen.
The two royals are not only protected by Gabril as they grow into a capable young man and young women, but he also helps Lorelai nurture her slowly developing magical powers, which one day might make it possible to overpower Irina and take back the reign of Ravenspire. While Lorelai is training to become stronger she meets the young king of Eldr, Kol. Despite falling under Irina's spell as her huntsman, he does anything within his limited power to protect Lorelai and help her take control over Ravenspire.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, I absolutely adore the Snow White story in the varies incarnations I've seen and read over the years. I have of course a particular soft spot for the Disney animation, which is the first time I discovered the tale, but I also like the far creepier original story and even the live action film adaptations I've seen (though I prefer the older ones over those made in the 21st century). So to say I was excited to dive into this retelling, is an understatement.
Perhaps it was my high expectations and over-familiarity with the source material, but The Shadow Queen, despite some excellent ideas and great characters, was to me lacking in depth and intrigue, and it struggled keeping my attention. If it wasn't for the fact that I wanted to review the book, I would've been very tempted to stop reading it about mid-way through. As it is, I persevered and was rewarded with an action-packed ending that lifted the otherwise mediocre story considerably, moving it up to a decent 3 star read.
What I particularly liked about The Shadow Queen were the more subtle nods back to the source material, the addition of dragons (who doesn't love dragons?!) and the powerful, kick-ass stand-off towards the end. The seven dwarfs are nowhere to be seen in this retelling, instead the merry band of dragons provide the traditional sidekick role. While their characteristics couldn't be further away from the adorable Sneezy or Dopey we've come to know and love from the Disney classic, they sure kick some ass.
Where the novel didn't work well for me, however, was with the wealth of characters, leading to a lack of characterisation. There was too much going on and the shapeshifters and ogres were a tad too much in what was already a full-on plot. They distracted from the main focus: the story of Lorelai and Irina, two powerful women battling for the throne of Ravenspire. The scenes that linked these two together were the most well-written and engrossing by far, making me wonder if even the quite sweet romantic storyline woven into the story, was perhaps merely a distraction from the battle of power between the two lead characters.
The Shadow Queen certainly had its ups and down for me, and while I found the first half only mildly entertaining, the final few chapters really elevated the novel, and brought the various elements together in a satisfying conclusion. This won't be taking the top spot as my favourite Snow White retelling, but it was an enjoyable couple of hours spent inside the imaginative pages and discovering the fantastical world of Ravenspire and the lands surrounding it.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Shadow Queen is published by Scholastic and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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