Second of the Sevenwaters trilogy of novels about the last days of heroic Ireland, Son of the Shadows takes up the story of the children of Sorcha, who saved her enchanted brothers, and Hugh, the Briton she married. Sorcha's daughter Liadan is a gifted seer and healer who thinks, in spite of her visions, that she knows what the future has in store for her--caring for her dying mother and then an alliance marriage to Eamonn. A chance meeting on the road carries her off to care for a dying man--one of the mercenaries of the sinister Painted Man, Eamonn's archenemy and a killer for hire. Liadan discovers that she cannot choose whom she loves and that she and the Painted Man are as bound up in destiny as her mother and father were before her.
Earlier today I reviewed Daughter of the Forest, which I called my favorite fairy tale retelling of all time (and one of my favorite books, period.); Son of the Shadows is the 2nd book of the series, and I was a little hesitant to read it because it follows Sorcha and Red's children (meaning Sorcha and Red would be older and shuffled off out of the picture, and I just wasn't ready for that), and I'd heard that the series starts to go down hill after the first book. And though this did lack some of the magic of Daughter of the Forest, I certainly wouldn't say that Son of the Shadows is the point where the series starts to go downhill.
It's strange, though: some of my favorite things about the book are also some of my complaints. So I'm just going to get right into it. And, um, there will be slight spoilers.
I liked the way Son of the Shadows expanded the mythology of Sevenwaters (and Ireland) by incorporating the Old Ones and giving the fey a run for their money. They were an interesting element, and I really liked it. They world and mythology was also expanded in that there are characters from around the world. The Painted Men were fascinating, and going behind the scenes with the "bad guys" and feeling pity for them, sometimes even rooting for them - it was interesting, because it was hard to know where to lay your allegiance. (Which I think was a good thing, because it puts you more in Liadan's mind, who is having a similar problem.)
But when I first started SotS, I was more than a little worried that it was going to be a lukewarm rehashing of DOTF, covering the same ground with "new" characters, and trying to recapture the magic. And there were times that I felt this did sort of peek through, or Liadan did come close to being Sorcha, especially in the beginning, before she began to distinguish herself. But as it went along, the similarities faded and Liadan became her own character, and I liked her for it. She was much more willful than her mother, and even sort of brazen, which is not something I would call Sorcha. Where Sorcha took her lot in life and struggled to make the most of it, Liadan went after what she wanted, even when it was sometimes incredibly reckless. Their similarities (beyond both being healers and respected members of their community - and unwittingly enchanting every man who crossed their path) was in the lengths they would go to for those they loved. There didn't seem to be anything they wouldn't risk, which is complicated when the people you love require contradicting things of you.
While I'm on the topic of love, I do want to talk about the...romance between Liadan and Bran. I have a friend (the one who recommended the books to me in the first place) who likes Bran more than Red, and that I just don't get. Maybe it's the tortured soul thing, maybe it's whatever it is in women that makes them like bad boys, but as much as I liked Bran as a character, and even as a love interest (at times), I would never in a million years compare their romance to Sorcha's and Red's, or claim to like anyone more. (Red 4eva!) I did like Liadan and Bran together, and I liked his slow transformation into someone worthy of being liked.
There was an honesty to the situation, and an acceptance that people aren't perfect (and perhaps Bran was a good foil to Liadan's somewhat Mary Sue character). I sometimes felt as if I was reading the story that would have been if Sorcha had ended up with Simon instead of going to England and meeting Red. That was interesting - but it never gave me butterflies the way that DOTF did. I loved it, and I looked forward to the scenes where they were together, even if only briefly, and that's high-praise, really. But I just can't get crazy fangirly on this one. I loved both characters and found them intriguing, but they were also frustrating and the beauty of the build-up and discovery just wasn't there. It would come SO CLOSE and then just not go all the way*. I liked them, almost even loved them, but they weren't quite magic. Sorcha and Red were magic.
*But they did. Boy, did they.
There were other things that worked but didn't work for me, too. I liked the darkness of the story which, as dark as DOTF was, I think actually went a little darker. There were dark moments in DOTF, and a villain or two, but it was overpowered by so much valiance and righteousness and love. SotS shows us how even some of the good guys get corrupted. Times are changing in Liadan's world, and mostly not for the better. There is a lot of darkness and mistrust and loneliness and violence, all compounded on one another. And though I liked this, sometimes it was just too much. I don't mean this from a "too much for my delicate sensibilities" standpoint, because I don't have those. I mean, sometimes it was just too much: Eammon could have been a cartoon villain, twirling his curly mustache at the end. And though there were times I loved his obsessive need for control and his callousness, and there were times that I could see it crack and even feel pity for him, there were also times when I was just wanted to be done with him.
But the fact is, there was never anything bad enough in this book to keep me from recommending it, or even loving it. I'm just holding it up to the impossibly high standard Daughter of the Forest set. And for those of you who are fans of DOTF but haven't read this one yet, allow me to tease you with this:
There's more Finbar!!
I truly loved his role in this book, and his connection to Liadan. It expanded her character and his quite nicely.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows. Trust me.
I much prefer this cover --->