Thursday, December 24, 2015

REVIEW: The Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch (The Knots Sequence #2)

The Shadow's Curse
by Amy McCulloch
The Knots Sequence #2
4/5 stars
US release date: February 8, 2016

That was quick, right? ;)
This review does contain some spoilers pertaining to the first book in the series, The Oathbreaker's Shadow.

How I found it:
Many thanks to NetGalley and Flux for an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.
I was initially drawn to this title on NetGalley because it is published by Flux, who I've heard is a pretty fantastic publishing company. Plus, it sounded fascinating. I didn't realize at the time that it was a sequel -you can read the review for The Oathbreaker's Shadow right here- so I had to scramble to read both before the deadline. BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

Again, the world building and magic system are fantastic! The world McCulloch has created is an exotic nomadic society in and on the outskirts of a brutal, blistering desert. In this second book, she takes us even deeper into this world, up into the mountain tribe of the learned Baril, across an ocean, and into the closed off kingdom in the South, with a dash of secret tunnels and feuding societies sprinkled in along the way.

At the same time, she continues to expound on the magic of knots and shadows and how it all ties into Raim's destiny and I finally get to enthuse on how much I absolutely love, love, LOVE the fact that an oathbreaker's shadow is actually a piece of the soul of the person whose oath they broke, haunting them for their mistake! How brilliant is that? It's FANTASTIC, is what it is. It adds an amazing layer of depth to both characters, because there is a part of Raim who was convinced to follow Khareh's dastardly schemes and there was a part of Khareh who couldn't. Talk about a gray area!

I really enjoyed the first book, but this one I loved. In the review for The Oathbreaker's Shadow, I mentioned just how wonderfully vivid best friends Raim and Khareh were and they got even better. While the first book showed us primarily Raim's journey, The Shadow's Curse is very much a dynamic between the former best friends. It's broken into two perspectives, half told by Raim and half told by Wadi, imprisoned by Khareh. Using Wadi as the second voice in this story was a very clever move, I think, because we see everything that Khareh is up to, including his own misgivings and regrets, but we see them all through the eyes of his enemy. This is a constant habitation of the gray area, because Wadi hates Khareh for betraying Raim and for everything that he has done, but at the same time she begins to understand him.

This is a tale of best friends-turned-enemies and my heart almost couldn't take it! While we don't see Khareh interacting on a personal level with his shadow of Raim, we do see Raim constantly talking to, trusting, and relying on the piece of Khareh's soul -dubbed Draikh- who is made up of all of the best parts of his best friend, the part that would never betray him. All the while Raim knows that it is just a shadow of Khareh, who did betray him, and only the shadow of their old friendship. MY HEART. McCulloch worked it beautifully, too, because she still managed to work over my emotions so thoroughly without bringing Raim and Khareh back onto the same page until the climax. Brilliantly and beautifully done.

Amy McCulloch has also won my high estimation because not once did she even think about dipping into a love triangle for Wadi between Raim and Khareh. So many authors would have taken that as a given, so bless your heart, Amy McCulloch, because you proved that we can have interesting and dynamic characters, including one girl and two boys, and keep our rapt attention without resorting to the over- and often poorly-done triangle. Bless you.

Obviously, for me, Raim and Khareh totally took the cake, but I would be remiss not to mention that Wadi is also a great character. She doesn't jump off the page quite as much as the other two, but she has a great presence and she is a fantastic example of a strong female character.

The biggest pro of all for this book had to be the ending. It was perfect. Throughout the series, I toyed with a few theories on how it would end, but none of them seemed quite right, and Amy McCulloch totally nailed it. This was an engrossing, fascinating, and deeply satisfying conclusion.

While I think that the narrative wasn't quite as bulky as in the first book, there were still times I did find myself skimming. I think McCulloch did a much better job using her narrative to further both scene and story in the Wadi chapters, because we were seeing the enemy through her eyes, and there was so much emotion infused there.

I wanted to know just how Khareh managed to win over his haunt of Raim, but it never goes into detail about this. This was disappointing because, having been so much in the head of Raim, I feel as the reader that he would never have agreed to such a thing. So why did a piece of him do it? This could have potentially deepened Raim's character and given us an interesting conflict or crisis of faith. Instead, it was essentially glazed over.

I had hoped we would see some further, realistic development for Raim and Wadi's relationship, but I was disappointed. In the first book, they leapt quickly from 'Hey, I just met you' to 'I can't live without you' in an unsatisfactory span of interaction, and the second book just kept with it. There wasn't much more development past this, except maybe 'absence makes the heart grow fonder.' I wasn't totally thrilled with the way the romantic story line was executed, but for the rest of this fantastic story, I can let it go.

Clean Read Guide:
Again, there is some violence in this story. Wadi is imprisoned with Khareh and his army, so we do see death and some of the realities of war. It's pretty tame though.
No bedroom scenes or make-out sessions, though there was probably an innocent kiss or two.
No profanity.

Fantastic! This was even better than the first book and a wholly satisfying series. It was left with an opening for more, but it could definitely stand alone. My absolute favorite thing about this book was the relationship between Raim and Khareh -friends turned enemies- and watching them deal with and develop from all of the consequences of that: what they regret, what they don't, and how they cope with the betrayal and the loss of their friendship. What an emotional roller coaster ride. The world, magic, and compelling story serve as excellent bonuses to this main attraction.

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