Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow

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Of Silver and Shadow
by Jennifer Gruenke
YA Fantasy/grimdark
480 pages
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.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow

  1. Yikes. I adore this review for its brutal honesty, but yikes. That said, it was never one on my TBR. The cover is gorgeous, but I find YA fantasy is taking darkness far too far. I’m over it. Particularly in this time of quarantine! Well, thanks for letting me know it’s wise to give this book a wide berth. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I’m not bothered by the darkness in YA fantasy that’s intended for the older end of the YA scale, I’m just bothered by the constant need for the lead characters to be badass and cool. It undermines the quality of the story, imo. I don’t demand that the book be perfect in every way (I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of lousy books), but the cookie cutter ‘she’s a badass who doesn’t care what you think’ doesn’t make a strong character by itself. It just makes a frustrating one. That this book was poorly written just made the whole experience that much worse.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Sum-Up: May 24, 2020 | Traveling in Books

  4. I guess I’m just *over* darkness in fantasy. It feels like everything is just a rinse and repeat of something that came before it. Influence is good. But originality is good too. I’ll read darker fantasy if it’s creative in new ways. I can just predict everything now and I’m tired of everything always being absolutely wretched. But the latter is probably just quarantine speaking…

    It just sounds like there was a lot of this book that was cookie cutter. This is why Katniss Everdeen is such an amazing character. She’s a badass who doesn’t care what you think outwardly… but has all sorts of inner emotional turmoil and is just trying-to-figure-her-shit-out-and-deal-with-two-years-in-a-row-of-murdering-total-strangers-for-the-enjoyment-of-the-world-would-you-please-leave-her-alone?

    Yeah. I want depth in my characters. Is that too much to ask in YA for some reason?

  5. I imagine part of that is definitely quarantine speaking. But I’m over the constant darkness, too. Like, we get it. Things are awful in your little world. I don’t need 1,000+ pages of the people always being awful to each other.

    That’s been my issue with several of the YA fantasies I’ve gotten from NetGalley. Interesting concepts, flat cookie-cutter characters. And it’s definitely not too much to ask of YA. I’ve seen soooo many books with deep worlds, fully rounded characters, and important themes. But we’ve just gotta be so cool, ya know…..

    Right now, my observation that the books written by young white authors tend to be the cookie cutter ones, while the books written by PoC authors have more depth, more interesting stories, and better writing.

  6. I was complaining about this to my husband over the weekend. He told me I should be in fewer book clubs and do more buddy reads so I can read the sort of fantasy I know I’ll like. I’m conflicted on this. I love being able to discuss books with others and get exposure to other genres and authors I never would have touched otherwise. But I realized that I’ve not read a single book in translation this year. And only 8 books were by PoC authors — 6 total authors. Yikes. I always love books by PoC authors. Perhaps he’s right…

  7. Well, I’m always up for a buddy read, so if you want to dive into something, let me know!

    Right now, I’m reading an ARC of The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant, a British-Mauritian author of color. It’s a retelling of Les Miserables, and so far it’s great! There are parts where the story sort of jumps forward faster than it maybe should, but it’s a debut, so I’ll excuse a few flaws. But the writing is soled, and while Nina is a female thief with “cool” skills, the driving force of her story is that she cares almost too much. I’m considering buying the pretty UK version, but I’ll have to see if Grant sticks the landing…

  8. One buddy read at a time, eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Here’s hoping Grant does stick the landing so it’s worth it to buy the pretty UK version! I love it when I can access international covers I like better than the American ones. I haven’t read Les Miserables, but I more-or-less have the musical memorized. I bet the pacing wouldn’t bother me so much as the musical is bam-bam-bam-bam with events.

  9. I finished Court of Miracles last night (or this morning), and I think Grant stuck the landing quite well! I’m looking forward to the next book already. I think it’s inspired by the musical more than the book, so the pacing has that quickstep feeling to it.

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