Alessandra is the second daughter of a Duke (I think), which makes her practically invisible. Both in the eyes of her father, and the world. But she has a plan: now that her sister is engaged, she’s free to court and pursue her own future husband. She’s not going to settle for just anyone, though. Alessandra has her eyes set on the Shadow King. She will be the first woman to catch his eye, they’ll court and get married, and then she’ll kill him and take his kingdom. And she’ll never be invisible to anyone again.
A lot about setting this novel is done well. The complexity of court and social class and positioning is described really well, and the misogyny ingrained in the court system is also well characterized. The descriptions of the palace and people are detailed and woven into the story in a way that doesn’t detract from what’s happening. But also some problems with setting and timeline are distracting.
More specifically, when I was reading, there were times when I had to stop and ask if we’d resolved a thread yet (example: the Rhouben/Melitta side plot). And how did a semi-automatic rifle make its way into this book? We’re still wearing petticoats and the king fights with a sword, but I’m expected to believe the assassin has a semi-automatic? I recognize that this book does not take place in the real world, but if you’re going to set it in the equivalent of Victorian England, go all the way. That wasn’t the lone instance where I questioned the world-building, but this was one point that stuck with me to the end.
I like Kallias. I want everyone to react to “major revelations” like he did: like they don’t matter. It didn’t matter to Kallias that Alessandra had slept with other men because he’s slept with other women. He doesn’t care that Alessandra killed Hektor. He admits that it saved him the trouble of sending someone else to do it for her. She spends so much of the book trying to hide who she is and what’s she’s done, and she doesn’t need to.
In one of the early chapters, the king asks her outright what she wants, and that was a smart play by the author. It gave her the opportunity to explain why becoming queen was important to Alessandra, and it characterized how we can expect Kallias to react when the rest of her problems come to light. And the author followed through on those characterizations time and time again. A lot of authors make revelations like these a big problem, even making them centerpieces of relationship conflict for their characters, but I’ve never understood why. Kallias knows exactly who Alessandra is. None of this should matter.
Alessandra reminds me of Adelina in The Young Elites (I’m sure other characters in other books, too, but TYE is what’s coming to mind). They’re both out for power after they’ve been wronged. While I may not agree with their choices, they’re strong leaders who rule with an iron grip. It’s definitely and over-correct, but there’s something to be said for someone who wants their due justice and is willing to take it. But maybe that’s just the Slytherin in me. Regardless, the characterization of Alessandra is well done.
Which is to say nothing of the paranormal element of this book: Kallias, as The Shadow King, is himself, made of shadows. As the book goes on, you learn more about the history of the (literal) shadows in the royal family, and I’m not going to spoil that for you. But it does create this interesting dilemma for Kallias. He has this power that keeps him eternally young and alive, but loving Alessandra and keeping her near him means giving up that power. He has to decide if that’s worth it, or if a life without love is worth it.
I enjoyed The Shadows Between Us, by Tricia Levenseller: it’s soapy and dramatic, with the right amount of heat. Just the way I like my royal YA novels. Levenseller’s character work is masterful, showing us who they are and what they believe from the beginning, and allowing those traits to guide the character’s actions through the story. If you’re looking for a plot-based novel, you’re going to be bored: it’s all about Alessandra and her propensity for planning, scheming, and ruling. The Shadows Between Us is a testament to what character-driven novels should be about. It’s the strengthening of relationships, the development of characters as whole people, and the overcoming of a central misbelief that’s been keeping a character from happiness.
I was excited for this book to hit the shelves, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Levenseller’s other YA offering: The Daughter of the Pirate King.