Of Silver and Shadow
by Jennifer Gruenke
Expected publication February 26, 2021, by Flux
In the kingdom of Erdis, it has been illegal for any but members of the royal family to have the magic known as silver. If a commoner is found to have silver, they are executed. But the rest of the populace is no better off, for the king is a tyrant who brutally puts down all dissent and regularly demonstrates his cruelty. Against this backdrop, eighteen-year-old Ren Kolins must hide her silver while embarking on a life as a card sharp, petty thief, and pit fighter to make ends meet. When her silver is discovered by a wealthy noble family, Ren is drawn into a rebellious plot that promises to make her rich– but only if the rebellion succeeds against all odds. Meanwhile, the members of the king’s brutal brigade known as the King’s Children are competing to become the next Fang, and Adley Farre will stop at nothing to earn that honor by hunting down the rebels, one by one. Time is running out for all of them, and when the youngest prince is drawn into the rebellion, its leaders must act before war breaks out.
In this YA fantasy, debut author Jennifer Gruenke attempts to build a grim world of tyranny and despair with one last hope for a better future. While Gruenke does manage to portray a world of casual brutality and questionable morality, there is little else to define or deepen it. The main protagonist, Ren, is quick to assure the other characters that she doesn’t care about anything but money, and while there is a reason for this, it’s tacked on like it was an afterthought. Constant descriptions of clothing are included in place of character development, as though knowing what color someone’s trousers are will provide a profound insight into who they are as a person. But while clothing might make the man, simply describing it does not make for a rounded character, and so everyone in the story has the depth of a puddle. Except for the villains, who are shallower still and exist to lurk in the background, evilly being evil.
“A few doors popped open along the corridor, and more Children entered the hall, wearing nightclothes and mussed hair.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ demanded Lyle Mcillen, a boy a couple years younger than Adley and one of Ethen’s lackeys. With large muscles to compensate for the size of his brain, he worshipped Ethen like a god and not the persistent thorn in Adley’s side.
‘Shut it, Mcillen,’ Lesa snapped. Her withdrawn blade winked in the faint light, and Lyle froze in the middle of the corridor.
‘What are you going to do, Adley? Shoot me?’ Ethen asked.
‘Don’t think I haven’t considered it.'”
The most frustrating thing about Of Silver and Shadow and other YA fantasies of its kind is that they have a desperate desire to be seen as ‘cool’. They’re populated by badass girls who kick ass and don’t care about anyone else and handsome but troubled boys with artfully mussed hair, and somehow the fate of the world depends on the girl falling for at least one of the boys and his cause. It’s been a successful recipe many times over, which is why it continues to appear. But Of Silver and Shadow adds nothing new to this kind of YA fantasy, and to add insult to injury, it isn’t written very well. It reads like it was written in a hurry, with little thought to the world’s atmosphere, culture, or history. The ending is unconvincing and rushed, as though Gruenke was worried that expanding upon the finale would force her to change the closing scene and its snarky conversation.
It’s a shame. The kingdom of Erdis could have been an extraordinary place. The magic of silver could have been amazing. The characters and their relationships could have been fascinating. Of Silver and Shadow is rushed, though, with prose that needs editing, characters that need real development (not just descriptions of their clothing), and an ending that needs to be overhauled to be believable.
I approached Of Silver and Shadow with an open mind and enjoyed the first few chapters, but the more I read, the more frustrated I grew as characters would talk about how they hated the state of their world– and then do nothing about it. Or they would continue to talk about how little they cared about anyone around them, even as they were more and more wrapped up in events larger than themselves. They failed to change or grow over time the way people encountering extraordinary circumstances would actually change, just as the world never coalesces into anything beyond the generic, while the ending is unconvincing and unrealistic. For all its ideas, Of Silver and Shadow is a muddle of squandered potential and thrice reheated tropes.
Thank you to NetGalley and Flux for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion in any way.