Shadow and Ice
I absolutely adored Gena Showalter’s Everlife series. It’s a young adult fantasy trilogy that takes a unique look at the possibility of the afterlife, and it’s a story I won’t soon forget. So, when I learned that Ms. Showalter was starting a new urban fantasy series (Gods of War) for adults, I was eager to get my hands on the first instalment, Shadow and Ice.
Knox of Ivaland has spent his life in chains. He’s one of the world’s most ruthless warriors, but he hasn’t been able to escape from the powerful king who enslaved him hundreds of years earlier. Knox possesses a unique supernatural gift, the ability to bend shadows to his will, and his master is determined not to let him out of his control. But Knox is equally determined to claim his freedom, and a supernatural competition known as the All Wars just might help him achieve his dream. A number of very skilled warriors, all of whom possess supernatural powers, will fight to the death for the chance to rule over heretofore unclaimed realms. The last man standing will rule them all, and Knox will stop at nothing to ensure his victory.
Vale London is ready to settle down and open a bakery with her foster sister. It’s a dream they’ve been working toward for years, and the time finally feels right for them to get started. However, the two women decide to have one last adventure before they open their business, and they embark on an arctic getaway that will unwittingly land them in the middle of a terrifying battle, the likes of which Vale has never imagined.
As soon as Knox lays eyes on Vale, he knows he absolutely has to have her, but powerful forces are desperate to keep them apart. Vale is also drawn to Knox, but she is understandably wary of becoming involved with him especially when she learns he’s no ordinary flesh and blood man. It soon becomes apparent that Knox is the only one powerful enough to protect her from the dangerous people who want to see her dead, so they form an uneasy alliance that is only supposed to last until Knox can vanquish Vale’s enemies.
I read quite a bit of urban fantasy, but Shadow and Ice is one of the most violent books I’ve come across in quite some time. I’m certainly not opposed to a certain amount of violence, especially in a book that centers around a war, but this felt excessive to me. Ms. Showalter describes every fight in painstaking detail, and some of those descriptions went on for pages. I understand that Knox is involved in a deadly battle for his freedom, and I definitely didn’t go into this expecting a world made of sunshine and rainbows, but neither was I prepared for the degree of brutality I encountered.
Both Vale and Knox were extremely difficult for me to like, and they both felt like replicas of characters I’ve encountered hundreds of times before. Vale is very tough with a core of vulnerability she tries hard to keep hidden, and Knox is your stereotypical tortured hero. Ms. Showalter has created backstories for them both, but I didn’t find either one to be particularly compelling.
At nearly five hundred pages, I can’t help but think this book was much longer than it needed to be. The story is supposed to be action-packed, but I actually thought it dragged in several places. I might have enjoyed it more if the author had tightened it up a bit.
There are a ton of urban fantasy novels out there that I could recommend, but this isn’t one of them. The romance is lackluster, and there’s nothing that distinguishes this world from the others I’ve read about. I came away from Shadow and Ice with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction and the strong need to move on to something with considerably more depth.