This book had just about every element I look for in a fantasy–magic, women in positions of power but also morally ambiguous, ladies loving ladies, fisticuffs… and yet…
Eleanor Reed is a mage fresh out of magic school and through some author handwavium (there is a ton of this, so heads up) ends up going undercover to bust The Drug Ring Of The Century with a poorly fleshed out BFF. The whys are unclear, the where is pretty unclear (they have three moons, so not our world, but still medieval), and the reasoning is murky at best. The first forty-seven pages are basically a wash, as the author uses them for info dump after info dump, telling us about the world instead of showing it. I was three pages away from DNF, but finally got interested on page forty-eight, and didn’t find a reasonable hook until page eighty-three. That is a long time to go without a hook or character connection.
Other issues kept cropping up in the first fifty pages that consistently jarred me from the narrative. The text contradicted itself in no less than five places during this time (did Tony approve or not approve of Eleanor helping Ben out? Did Ben fail his first mission or not fail his first mission?). Major plot holes kept popping up (why was Cassandra at the first bar to begin with, scoping Elanor out? If Eleanor was so well guarded at the end of the book, how does she sneak out? How in the hell does Eleanor manage to scythe almost every other day with no one noticing, when she is residing at Villain Base Camp?)
The beginning and end of this book were not strong, and felt like the author just forcibly manhandling the plot in the direction they thought it should go. The story is really its strongest when Eleanor and Cassandra interact, and when the plot and setting is allowed to unfold through their eyes. The sexual tension is palpable in this area, the characters resonate, and things flow smoothly. This could have been a really fun book had it started cold at page eighty or so, and had a more drawn out ending in which we really got to see a decent battle between the kingdom forces and the thieves. Which brings me to my next quibble…
It almost worked. Almost. There is no well defined magic system, so if you’re into that, move along. The system has costs, which is good (energy, so pretty basic), but the handwavium is strong in this area. Eleanor is a water mage but either knows or doesn’t know aspects of other magic, depending on what suits the narrative. The magic use either drains her or doesn’t affect her too much, depending on what suits the narrative. And at the end of the book Eleanor is using so much magic, from so many disciplines, that any attempt at rigor is basically thrown out the window. The water magic made a lot of sense when she was pretending to be a basic witch, and I really liked the explanations that came with it, and how the use was described. Once she was allowed to go full mage again, the loose rules system went completely out the window.
It had so much potential that was never realized. The book could have been strengthened a great deal with more ‘in late, out early,’ as well as much more focus on plot consistency. I could see this being a strong novella, or strong novel, if the end was reworked and the first eighty pages cut.
You can buy Nightshade here.