The Shadow’s Heart by K.J. Taylor

January 31, 2014 Reviews 2 ★★★★★

The Shadow’s Heart by K.J. TaylorThe Shadow's Heart (The Risen Sun #3) by K. J. Taylor
Published: January 1st 2014 by HarperVoyager
Format: Paperback, 472 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
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5 Stars

In the aftermath of civil war, Queen Laela must do whatever it takes to maintain control of her kingdom.

With Arenadd gone and her own griffin partner Oeka lost to magic, Laela joins forces with the dark griffin Skandar to secure her hold on the throne and attempt peace between the North and South. But Saeddryn’s son Caedmon is still determined to claim the throne himself - and this time he has help from the most unlikely of quarters.

Meanwhile, as Kullervo rallies the South in support of his sister’s peace treaty, he embarks on his own journey of self-discovery and must decide what he truly believes in … and what he’s willing to fight for.

With the Night God plotting Laela’s destruction, old enemies rise again. The battle for the North is reaching its final stages - but who will win? And at what cost?

The exciting conclusion to The Risen Sun combines themes of redemption of karma into a riveting book full of action, tragedy, and displaced loyalties. The Shadow’s Heart rounds out the story which began five books ago with The Dark Griffin and won’t fail to enchant readers anew.

Laela, Queen of the Northerners, is struggling with the demands of rulership. She’s quite independent and stubborn, but the darkness that is her father’s legacy weighs heavily on her. She becomes increasingly callous and unfeeling, willing to do whatever it takes to keep her throne. The loss of her griffin, Oeka, has contributed to this, because as pushy and ambitious Oeka was, she also stabilised Laela. I think the queen’s story arc is doubly tragic because of the parallels with Arennad’s.

Kullervo, Laela’s half-brother, is the only one who can talk some sense into her, but he’s soft-hearted and innocent, wanting everyone to just get along and the killing to stop. His journey in this book makes him tougher, and I love that no matter how many times his beliefs were challenged, he never lost sight of his goal to end the hostilities. He makes some great friends along the way, something Laela could never do, and I enjoyed being in his headspace.

I’ve never had trouble siding with Laela and Kullervo in earlier books (as Arennad’s children they had all my support) in The Shadow’s Heart I found myself sympathising more and more with Caedmon, who thinks he is Arennad’s rightful heir. I think a lot of this has to do with the warrior distancing himself from his mother – Saedryyn, who I will never like – and carving out a destiny for himself. His interactions with Myfina also served to humanise him.

Saeddryn, who is now the Shadow-That-Walks like Arennad was, is simply terrifying. All her humanity is gone and the only things that are left are the things I disliked about her. Her desperation for Arennad’s approval, loyalty, and love gave me pause, and I know the Night God made her this way, but in the end I couldn’t muster up any sympathy. I keep wondering whether the book title, The Shadow’s Heart, refers to her, or Arennad, or both of them. I feel the book is more concerned with Arennad trying to atone for his actions in the first trilogy, but it’s debatable.

The two Gods in the narrative, the Night God and the Sun-God Gryphus, continue to aggravate me with their selfishness and power plays which ruin the lives of innocent people. The griffins, being so unlike humans, are more difficult to talk about. Powerful and extremely arrogant, they all tended to get on my nerves at times. Skandar is an obvious favourite, but Senneck grew on me as the book went on. She’s an extremely well written character, and if there was any griffin I’d like to meet, it’d be her. However, I think my feelings for her are coloured by the fact that her ambition and superiority are tempered by the end of the book.

Taylor continues to flesh out the world she created in The Dark Griffin by taking readers into Southerner territory, the islands that surround the mainland, and back to Amoran to meet Prince Akhane. It was sobering to see how the Southern cities have rebuilt after the devastating wars, and I think this section of the book allowed me to sympathise with Kullervo and join him in envisioning a world where Northerners and Southerners could live peacefully side-by-side. Of all the new places, my favourite is the Northern island where true Northerners – those untouched by Southern customs – live. It is interesting to see the Northern culture as it may have been had the Southerners not enslaved the race.

The strength of this novel is in its plotting – it is probably Taylor’s best book (of the six in the set in this world). Taylor superbly navigates the motivations of each of her character and lets the consequences fall out naturally. I never felt that any plot element was contrived or poorly introduced. The writing is also strong, building tension slowly before the amazing climax. Some chapters span minutes while others months, which again allows the story to grow organically. Taylor’s books have always looked at alienation, racism, and discrimination and projected the consequences on the scale of nations and armies, and I think The Shadow’s Heart cleverly explores these themes without losing out on action.

Laela’s story has been every bit as engaging and awesome as Arennad’s. The Shadow’s Heart concludes the series admirably, and I think it’s an amazing accomplishment. There are enough tantalising loose ends left in this book to hint at the possibility of further books in the world, something that makes me incredibly happy. While The Risen Sun series can be read independently of The Fallen Moon books, I think the best experience of this world would come from reading the prequel trilogy first.

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