Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sea of Shadows, by Kelley Armstrong- Review

From Goodreads:
In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

Although she has an enormous back list of books, I've only managed to read The Darkest Powers series, not even the companion trilogy The Darkness Rising! Sometimes my reading fails astound even me. However, since she's from Ontario, I've met Kelley many times and even before reading any of her books I had a tremendous amount of respect for her work. So I was seriously excited when I got an early ARC of this book.

Set in the kind of fantasy world where *certain* kinds of magic are observed and understood but much are simply mythical, where society is very middle ages in it's set up, but where political machinations are as tied into the story as the arrival of Thunder Hawks and Death Worms, Kelley has built my favourite kind of fantasy world to become lost in. The Kind with depth, range and character, unlike the ones that exist simply as a way to explain why characters can do certain things or certain beasts exist. 

More importantly she's taken four characters, who represent very different elements of society, and made me fall in love with them equally, to my peril. Starting, of course, with sisters Moria and Ashyn. The Empire is not a kind world for twins to be born into, and Ashyn and Moria's story about how they became the Keeper and Seeker is what I'm coming to feel is typical Armstrong horror. Chilling, brutal and totally satisfactory to the bloodthirsty beast I become when I'm reading. More importantly, how it's shaped them into very different girls, who are still halves of the same whole is an element I really loved about their relationship. Where Moria is all strong will and decisive action,
"I am the Keeper of the Forest, boy," she said.  "Do you think those pretty patterns on your arms give you the right to threaten me? They do not. Even if your father was still marshal, they would not. I will take your glowers, I will take your insults. I will take your warnings that you'll abandon me by the roadside if I do not keep pace. But you will not call me a liar. And you will not threaten me."
Ashyn is the quiet intellectual, but with an equally cutting tongue. Just in her own way.
"Do you play the lute?" She asked.
He blinked, that soulful look evaporating. "What?"
"The lute. Lies and false flattery go so much better to the strains of a lute. you ought to consider becoming a bard. You have a certain rakish charm. An eye patch would help, too."

Like so many good books though, it's not simply the world or the characters that make this romp grand. I adored Armstrong's use of language devoid of slang. It was somewhat formal sounding but it also gave the dialogue a cadence I just couldn't get enough of (of course there's plenty of witty banter as well).
Moria had argued most strenuously for the obvious solution to her hair issues: chop it off. Gavril refused to permit it. Ashyn would be upset, and Moria would have to answer to the court Keeper and Seeker, perhaps even the emperor. Clearly, the emperor had far too little to do if he'd concern himself with a Keeper's hair, but she ceded Gavril's point. Or she did when he offered to help come up with an alternate solution....
"I fail to see how you'd think I'd be an expert in this matter," he said as she finished brushing out the snarls.
"You've been to court. you've seen the women's styles."
He snorted. "I'm not sure which is more amusing, Keeper: to think you believe I spent much time in court, or to think you believe I'd waste any time there looking at women's hair."
"True," she said. "There are probably far more engaging sights if the rumors are true, about how little some of the court women wear."
"The women of court are not to my taste."
"You have a taste?"
A glare. "No, I have better things to occupy my mind, in and out of court."
And that, she mused, was truly a shame, but sadly not unexpected.
It's very lyrical, and I was as wrapped up in what was happening, as I was in the language being used. I frequently stopped to re-read moments just to taste how it was being said after taking in what was being said.

Even after luxuriating in this story, pulling apart conversations and re-reading bits several times just to enjoy it, Armstrong still managed to throw a plot curve ball that caught me off-guard. One that left me just that much more eager for part the second, which is seeming so very far away at this moment.

By far the best book of hers I have read to-date, Sea of Shadows will be taking a place on my smallish shelf of all-time favourites.  The only upside to having to wait lifetimes for part two would be the many chances I'll have to revisit part one to tide me over.

Sea of Shadows, by Kelley Armstrong
Published b Doubleday, April 8th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Sea of Shadows on Amazon


  1. Honestly, I haven't read a lot of Kelley Armstong books either, I think I've only read one of her Darkest Powers series books. I'm always excited to see her name though and like you have a lot of respect for her work. I'm really interested in this book and can't wait to read it, it sounds like such a fun read!

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