Zoë Marriott's Reviews > The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
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it was ok


I wanted to love this so much. I mean, we've all watched or read Game of Thrones and imagined how, should WE be transported between the pages, we'd instantly become a ruthless plotting genius, and murder and scheme our way onto the Iron Throne in six months, right? This book is billed as 'Slytherin romance' and I was totally up for Tywin woos Bellatrix - dark magic, quick-witted exchanges, so-sharp-you'll-cut-yourself cleverness, ruthless plot turns, exquistely phrased insults! Yes, please.

None of this, sadly, is in the book.

Take Alessandra (known as lady Stathos, even though this society apparently has patrilineal primogeniture - because only the male characters are treated as 'heirs' - meaning she should ACTUALLY be 'lady Alessandra', proving that her title comes from her father rather than marriage BUT I DIGRESS)

Alessandra is the sort of Narcissist who treats people she sleeps with like sh*t. Toxic as hell. But if one of them tries to dump her, she murders them. Now, not to be all 'BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ!' here, but let's be real: if this character was a boy, and his first act was to brutally stab his teenage girlfriend to death for the crime of breaking up with him, we'd all be condemning it to high heaven as toxic misogyny. But since the murderer in this case is a girl, it's fine? Nah. Look, I'm all for dark, morally ambiguous mcs. If she'd killed him because he threatened her, or hurt her, or even if we saw that she had been consumed by violent and complex feelings about him, fine. But "No, you belong to me. If you try to leave I will stab you!" is the same sexually motivated violence I see waaaay too much of in the world already. It's not interesting or unique. It's boring. Guys, I was so bored with Alessandra before the end of this book.

Like I said: we all love a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a sociopath. I'm a fan of Killing Eve, I have many Will Graham/Hannibal ship fics bookmarked, and I had as much of a crush on the Darkling as anyone. It's soooo satisfying to glimpse the inner workings of such ruthless character, someone without a conscience - someone witty, dangerous, resourceful, wickedly clever. Someone who plays cat and mouse with others, who never gives away what they really mean (I could go on, you get the picture).

Do any of these traits apply to characters in this book? No. And this is a problem. If your character is an interesting sociopath, fine! If the only interesting thing about your character is that she is a sociopath, then you're in trouble. Sociopaths are actually ten-a-penny. You probably had one for a boss at one point. It's not enough by itself to make a character come alive on the page. And yeah, it's great that Alessandra likes sex, food and nice dresses - I can see she's supposed to be Feminist sociopath - but these aren't actual personality traits. It's just a list of hobbies.

What's more, the narrative acts as if our mc is a genius: she keeps pulling off all these cunning feats! Look! She's SO CLEVER. Buuuut we never quite see how or why any of this stuff is so amazing. The writer doesn't fill in those blanks. Alessandra smirks and we're told she's plotting something and then it happens. We don't see her working stuff out, or the mechanics of how things are pulled off. Her amazing suggestions on how to crush rebellions and root out the Robin Hood character which are supposed to be so groundbreaking and wow the King? They're basic as Hell. And she initially snags the Shadow King so fast that it's disappointing - literally all she has to do is pretend not to be interested in him for ONE EVENING, and he wants to be her best friend! The only other plan we actually see her execute (breaking an engagement by setting both parties up to be found in a bedroom together) is the kind of thing I could have managed when I was ten.

The book literally starts with her boasting (paraphrase): "They never found the body of the first and last boy to break my heart - and they never will!" So badass, right? But not actually true, because midway through the book they DO find the body, which the heroine cunningly buried in the forest near her house in a trunk with her initials on it, during a period when she had cunningly not arranged any kind of an alibi for herself. She literally only gets away with this because the King is her bessie mate at this point and he's the kind of guy who orders public floggings of peasants whenever he has an itch he can't reach, so he thinks her cold-blooded murdering is totes hilarious and pardons her instantly. Yep, it's so badass when your rich and powerful boyfriend saves you from justified a murder charge.

She's not (as demonstrated by her actual actions) clever. She's not witty, or funny - there's not a single quip in this book, or not any that worked well enough to register. She's not dangerous except in the same way that any homicidal person with a sharp knife can be dangerous. All she ever thinks about is herself and then, later on, herself and the King. She's so dull, it's like trying to root for Ivanka Trump.

The King in this book might have sinister shadow powers, but he, too, is basically just a magic-Trump: a rich, privileged man who murders his minions when they annoy him, cares nothing for the starving peasants his advisors torture and abuse, and whose highest ambition in life is to conquer more kingdoms so he can neglect and oppress their people too. The heroine finds her murderous plans for the King melting because she can 'be herself' with him - and this is because he's just as shallow and self-absorbed as she is, and therefore nothing she says can shock him.

And if either of them acknowledged this, had the slightest sliver of self-awareness, maybe I could live with it? But they literally never do. They're convinced they're in the right all the time and that anyone who disagrees is just weak, or a moron. Which makes them different to the privileged 1% of contemporary society... how? At one point an older woman advises Alessandra to dump the King, because love only leads to disillusionment and heartbreak. As this woman walks away, Alessandra, completely unironically observes: "What a horrible woman." Not "What a dull woman," or "What an odd woman," or even "What a morbid woman." "Horrible". Catty remarks are just so horrible, amirite? Oh, and someone call a servant to clean up the body of the guard that my fiancee murdered on a whim just then, chop, chop.

These characters are ultimately the same sort of two-dimensional 'Beautiful People' you see in daytime soap operas, whose lives are consumed by being the most powerful and hottest EVAH. The only difference is that amid their metaphorical back-stabbing, these characters occasionally literally stab people in the back (or the front) too, and then get away with it Scott-free because they're too rich and powerful to be prosecuted. But only peasants and servants of course - wouldn't want to kill anyone important! There's no Kaz Brekker, no Hannibal, no - no *human* person who does terrible things but makes us care about them anyway.

Alessandra and Kallias are basically just a pair of slightly dim, totally self-absorbed rich *ssholes on a quest to get even richer and more privileged. And there's just nothing thrilling or interesting about that.

10/10 for concept. 1/10 for execution. I give it two stars because the writing is competent and readable on a prose-level, and the pacing is decent. Otherwise, eye witheringly disappointing.
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Reading Progress

July 26, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
July 26, 2020 – Shelved
July 30, 2020 – Started Reading
July 30, 2020 –
page 85
26.07% "Hmm. If your characters are witty, clever, entertaining sociopaths, then I am here for it. If the only entertaining thing about them is their sociopathy, it's a little less interesting. Also, rich *ssholes who torture peasants shld not be MCs imo. Let's see if this improves..."
July 30, 2020 –
page 120
36.81% "Great. Our 'hero' is literally that guy. The guy who randomly murders his own minions whenever he gets annoyed. 'You didn't protect my picnic!' *Stab*"
July 31, 2020 – Finished Reading

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