About the Book
In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live.
But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and, eventually, to kill them.
Yet, not all spritelings are born with malice—they must earn it or they are condemned. What happens then to the spriteling who finds a shadow where she shouldn’t? What happens if that particular spriteling wasn’t born with malice at all?
Ahraia was that spriteling. She ran too close to the light and bound herself to a wolf, a more powerful shadow than any that came before it. Now a shade, her shadow marks her for greatness. But a test is coming, and the further they wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her
This book was incredibly unique. I know I say that a lot, but there’s really no other way to start this review. There really isn’t another book I can even compare this one to. This really is its own beast in just about every possible way. And honestly, I went into this completely unprepared. I think if, perhaps, I’d done a bit more research on my end, reading this book would have been a bit easier.
So, I guess my first cautionary note is to say, go into this book prepared. Between the Shade and the Shadow is one of those reads that takes effort. It’s better knowing that before you go in.
I feel like I need to get something important out of the way before I really go too far into this book.
I start an epic fantasy expecting some work on my end. I’m entering an author’s world, with their own culture, lingo, religion, magic, and whatever else. I’m not going to understand it all right away, and that’s fine, but usually there’s a starting point. Usually I begin a book and I can at least recognize some part of where I’m at, and then it expands from there. A little oddity here, and little there, but in the context, I can puzzle it out. Slowly the world unfolds for me, and I wade into it as it does so I never really feel completely overwhelmed. It just naturally opens itself up to me and we sort of shake hands and the story moves forward.
This book didn’t do that. I wasn’t even really sure what Ahraia was until I got at least 20% into the book. It took me about that long to figure out the world she’s living in, and I’d say it took most of the book to figure out some of the terminology and cultural nuances. I remember somewhere around 15% I thought, “Ohhhhh, so THAT word essentially means ‘family.’” And it kind of baffled me that it took me that long to figure it out. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure what was so important about a shadow, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the culture until well into the book, and even at the ending, I’d have these moments where I’d think “Well, if I’d figured out what this meant when the book was starting, this entire sequence of events would have meant something completely different to me.”
Honestly, I found that to be incredibly frustrating.
And really, this book was very good. The writing was fantastic, and the plot was so completely different, I just wish I understood it more so it would have made more of an impact on me. I wish the first chunk of the book felt less like homework that I knew I did poorly at, and more like walking into a new world and shaking hands with it. There was no slow wading into the waters here, rather a huge dunking, and you either sink or swim. I’m afraid I sank.
That being said, once I could wrap my mind around this stuff a bit more, I really did enjoy the story being told. Ahraia is a unique spriteling in a world that doesn’t really have a place for her. She’s a protagonist I could really root for. I never really felt like I knew her, but her place in her world, an outsider looking in, a community trying to turn her into what they think she should be rather than what she thinks she could be was a story that spoke deeply to me.
The use of darkness was also completely fascinating. These creatures can’t live in the light at all, so they learn to live in the shadows, and manipulate the forest so they can live in vast chunks of it, and the shadows of the trees they’ve made their community in. The magic between a spriteling and their shadow is also interesting. The bond is close, and the trial that faces them, when they go from spriteling to sprite, is incredibly emotional, and a series of tests that will ultimately fundamentally change them.
Ahraia’s community is facing their own struggle. Power on the inside, power dynamics from other communities of sprites, the encroaching population of outsiders moving into the forest and changing it in ways that threaten the safety and security of the sprites.
So, basically, we have a personal journey here, Ahraia, a spriteling who doesn’t fit in, isn’t what she should be (as determined by her community), and isn’t doing what she should do, is forced to find herself in a world set against her. Her family doesn’t understand her, her community doesn’t understand her, and she’s reaching her trial, that arduous test that will turn her from spriteling into sprite. Mixed into this are family, community, and larger world dynamics, a really interesting magic system, and a whole hell of a lot of worldbuilding and lingo that kind of slapped me in the face and made reading this book harder than I would have liked.
Was it good? Yes, but you need to be prepared before you go into it or at least be in the mood for a really different, interesting, well-written book that requires some effort. My struggle with understanding the book really divorced me from it quite a bit, however, it gets rave reviews on Goodreads, so I think I might be in the minority on this one.
I kind of waffled on how many stars to give this one. My frustration was arguing for two stars, but you know, I kind of think this might be the perfect case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” The thing is, there really was a lot in this book that I have to admire. The magic was unique, the world was one of a kind in just about every possible way. Alexander literally thought of everything, and while I struggled with understanding it at first, I really have to admire the thought he put into the crafting of the book. Furthermore, he can turn one hell of a phrase. The book is graceful, with lyrical prose that read almost like poetry in parts. The fact that I bounced off of this (according to goodreads) puts me in the minority. So ultimately I told my frustration to shut up, and decided to give this three stars.
If you’re into complex, this might just be the bag of oats you’re looking for.