Zephyr, a teenage harpy sentenced to eternity in Tartarus for avenging her sister's murder, flees to the mortal realm along with her friend Cass, her childhood friend Tallon, and another boy named Blue. She learns about the connection between the dark power inside her and the prophecy of the Nyx. The Goddess Hera and her acolytes are hunting her and targeting the other vaettir (demigods). Zephyr must find the answers she seeks and prevent Hera's plans from happening, but will she be able to survive before it's too late?
Not even a handful of my favorite novels have ever touched me the way Justina Ireland's PROMISE OF SHADOWS did. It's still difficult for me to gather my thoughts without it ending up as obvious gushing. There's just so much I want to say about how Zephyr's personal journey emotionally compelled me. Yes, there are flaws in the storytelling, but as I kept reading, the strengths of the novel made up for them.
So...how about I list what I liked most about PROMISE OF SHADOWS first? Don't worry, it's spoiler-free!
1. The twist on the chosen one trope
I'll admit it. I was wary about the chosen one part in the misleading official blurb before reading the first page. I have many fantasy novels in the past, especially when I was younger, and as I got older, I began to tire of reading the story of the chosen one executed the same way over and over again. PROMISE OF SHADOWS, however, surprised me. There is a prophecy which does focus on Zephyr's destiny as the Nyx, and she's not too excited or reluctant about it. Her reactions and emotions are so realistic, so raw, that they resonate throughout the pages. The story beautifully shows her as being human. She's not wholly a good person, not the ideal of the good heroine, nor is she nonredeemable. She learns from her mistakes, she gets torn about how she should handle her forbidden power, and she forces herself to take action rather than let the prophecy drive her. Her character development was well written to the point where I started crying while reading certain parts (mainly the climax). Very few books do that for me.
2. Female relationships
One of the things I appreciate about PROMISE OF SHADOWS is its portrayal of female relationships. Zephyr and Cass have a memorable friendship, reminding me of Ella and Areida from ELLA ENCHANTED. Despite their true intentions and past histories, they remain loyal to each other. Some of the characters warn Zephyr about Cass, showing/telling her what Cass (or her people) did in the past, and yet Zephyr still stands on sticking with her. There is doubt, but the trust forms later on, creating a stronger bond between the two.
The flashbacks (which did not feel jarring/contrived to me) about Zephyr's relationship with her sister and mother were well written and complex. The story shows the good and the bad of family relationships. There is physical punishment and retaliation, but the novel does explain the reasoning behind it, as being part of the harpy/aerie culture/community. Other than the casual use of bitch, there is no unnecessary girl hate that I'm aware of.
3. The romance
It did take me a while for the idea of Zephyr and Tallon being together to grow on me. At first, I'd rather they stay friends with hints of them being in a romantic relationship later on. I just wasn't too excited to see the two become more than friends. But the tension was well written, and I appreciate how the story shamelessly conveys Zephyr's developing feels for him. Hey, she is a teenage girl still figuring out herself after all, and she's still aware that there are more important things to worry about than pursuing romance.
What I did like about Zephyr and Tallon's relationship is how they end up becoming each other's strengths. They are not the ideal of the perfect teen couple. They both still have to learn more about each other and themselves, even if they were childhood friends before.
Again, there is so much I wanted to say about this gem of a novel. I found myself frustrated after reading the last page. I hope this is not the last time I'll ever see of Zephyr's story or of her world. Speaking of world building, it was confusing for me to figure out the setting. While intriguing, the twist of Greek mythology in the present day world had me head scratching throughout the first half of the book. Are all humans aware of the existence of Gods (Exalteds) and demigods (vaettir), or just some? Other questions are also left unanswered. Some of the scenes/quiet moments in the middle of the novel did drag on, even if I did come to enjoy reading about the realistic relationships between the characters. The villain, Hera, didn't get as much screen time as I expected. I would have loved to read more about her back story and motives. The same with Persephone and the rest of the Gods.
PROMISE OF SHADOWS has enough unpredictable twists, character development, and humor for me to keep reading to the end. It is a book in which I will revisit. Readers anticipating a YA novel with a POC heroine, female relationships, awesome character development, and or an interesting twist on Greek mythology should check this book out. Go to your local public library if you have to. Hopefully you won't regret it.