Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Poisonwood Shadows

The Poisonwood Shadows

by Christina Crook

3 out of 5

Shadows are the silent, hidden protectors of Poisonwood, rooted deep in its cobbled streets and rain soaked alleyway. Strong and cunning, they are forbidden to love and always ready to fight, defend and keep the city safe from outside enemies.

It is only when they meet an introverted young woman with a mystery past, that things begin to change.

Scarlet has a small and routine life, and only starts to dream of more when she crosses paths with the untouchable Shadows.

I won a paperback copy in a Goodreads First Reads competition.

This tells the story of Scarlet, a maid in Poisonwood City. It focusses on the mysteries of her unknown parents, and her association with the Shadows (a version of highly-trained police or soldiers).
This is a well-written book, and if you enjoy in-depth character analyses, and some absolutely beautiful descriptions of the cityscape, I would recommend it.

I really liked the level of romance in this story - it mentions forbidden love in the synopsis, but The Poisonwood Shadows steers clear of the usual tropes.
Scarlett is a sensible young woman, her head isn't easily turned by guys. Even when William comes onto the scene, there's no instant love or infatuation. Scarlett's connection to him does not drown the rest of the story.
Also, the fact there are two love interests for Scarlett, it never becomes a love triangle. It feels like a very natural passage of time and the establishment of real feelings.

The not-so-good?
As I said before, there are full character analyses in the narration. I felt that the book was padded out too much, by each character giving their every thought, musing, or prejudice. It was a lot of telling, rather than showing. There were some sections that were completely over-repeating stuff. For example, for the first half of the book, there is a question of Scarlett's parents and whether she should be told. There are 5 pages of Ev debating with his grandfather whether he should tell Scar or not. Immediately followed by another 5 pages of interacting with Scar, asking if she wants to know. Tell her already!
It slowed down the plot and swamped other important or interesting moments.
Actually... I found some of those moments missing.
I never knew what the Shadows were. They move through the shadows - magically? Or was that just the metaphor Crook liked using?
What level of technology is there in this world? They have cars in the city, but no transport outside other than their own two feet? And if they have cars, why don't they have phones or other forms of communication? There's only ever talk of letters.
The Shadows are strictly not allowed to love, they're not even supposed to speak to others... at least in the beginning of the story, there were lots of events and moments of interaction with normal people. As for love - William's father and grandfather got married, and were still part of the Shadows?
When William appears bloody, unconscious and near death on her floor; why was Scarlett's first instinct to keep him secret and stitch him up herself?
One moment Scarlet is stepping up to join the Shadows, the next she's unconscious in the middle of the forest a year later?
The "announcement" of William's wedding that never got announced? Just some relatively-firm rumours amongst the lower ranks, with mention of the Captain about to announce it?
And what about Scarlett breaking the "truth" about her history? It's mentioned that she's going to, then she's suddenly in the forest with Ev weeks later, with a few mentions that she has done it, but...
[Spoiler end]

Aside from that, I didn't feel like there was enough agency in the characters' actions.
Vale is the root of their problems. He kidnaps and threatens, he blackmails and sends thugs into the streets of Poisonwood. Even when he imprisons a very important person, the rest of the characters spend years debating on how to rescue them. Yes, years.

The characters were all OK, but they were all quite samey. They were all nice, they all had a fine balance of respect and disdain for authority, they are all ready to do what's right but don't lead the way.

All-in-all, a decent debut, but could have done with being compacted.

Goodreads link

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