I thought I was over my fairy tale retelling phase, or at least on break from it, but clearly I’m not, because I devoured C. J. Redwine’s The Shadow Queen, a fantastic twist on Snow White. I loved it so much that I read it while out of town for work, carving out moments to read that really would have been better spent sleeping. But who needs sleep when you have books?
Lorelai, the princess-turned-fugitive, is on the run with her brother and her mentor, dreaming of taking back her throne someday while really just trying not to be killed. For fans of Once Upon A Time, you’ll find many similarities between this version of Snow White and the Snow we meet in the flashbacks of season 1. Despite Lorelai’s growing powers, she hesitates to actually confront her wicked stepmother, Irina, since the last time she did that people died.
Prince Kol, from the neighboring kingdom, is just about Lorelai’s opposite. While she can’t claim the throne she wants, he is forced to accept the throne he never thought would be his. Despite his people’s shape-changing abilities, they are powerless against the invading ogres. His search for allies leads him to Ravenspire. There he ends up stuck between Lorelai and Irina, trying to do the right thing despite powerful magic compelling him to do otherwise.
Things I liked about this book: a good, workable system for magic. As I noted in my review of Uprooted, it can be hard to put magic into your story without it becoming an automatic solution to everybody’s problems. Redwine finds a system that allows her characters to accomplish fantastic things, but not without a price. (That just begs for another OUAT reference, but I’ll resist.)
Another strong point: excellent character development. This is particularly true of Kol. Lorelia doesn’t change her character so much as just become more confident in her abilities as they’re tested. Kol becomes the leader he needs to be. His willingness to make sacrifices was, I would argue, always part of his character, but the way in which those sacrifices shape him make for a compelling arc.
On the flip side: Irina’s character does not make a lot of sense. What is it that she wants, exactly? Power? That makes sense and fits with the story. But there’s a weird push to make her seem slightly more sympathetic (at least that’s how it read to me) by making her crave love and acceptance. But then she sabotages any chance she has at happiness by grasping for more power. I suppose this could be tragic, and not an uncommon choice for villains, but something about this particular case didn’t fit well. Maybe because the choice between power and happiness is usually more subtle and this was pretty darn blatant.
Despite this weakness, I would still rate this 4 out of 5. A badass princess, a prince who can turn into a dragon, and a great connection between the two. Really, what else could you want?