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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Shadowlands by Kate Brian
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Thriller/Contemporary/Slightly Fantasy, 336 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Hyperion
Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived… and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection with her father and sister, Darcy, leaving their friends and family without so much as a goodbye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children, but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. But just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?

Okay, Shadowlands...I feel like I would write a different review of this every day of the week. Frankly, I'm really torn, and have even held off giving it a rating on Goodreads.  Here's the thing:
There are going to be people that are so shocked and amazed by the way this ends that they'll love it.
There are going to be people that are so shocked and dismayed by the way this ends that they'll hate it.
There are going to be people that find this gimmicky and disjointed, something that relies too heavily on a twist (and today, at least, that's where my opinion is hovering.)

This is a difficult book to talk about without spoiling something, but essentially, Shadowlands is a contemporary thriller that reads like a movie trying to be a book. And that doesn't really work. Things that work in movies often don't work so well when they're written out because your brain processes them differently. Fog, for instance; fog rolling up right at the opportune (or inopportune) moment, there at the height of tension and then gone - seeing that on a screen works, even if later you think it's cheesy; we sort of process it in the background. But when in writing, it ceases to work because it's being pointed out; you are forced to focus on it, which gives you the time to reflect on it, realize how cheesy it is immediately, roll your eyes, and then begin to question everything. It jars you out of the flow a little, and each time this happens, you get further and further away from connecting with or believing in the story.  Things like this, and the unrealistic way characters react and/or interact with each other, kept eating at me. But this is where it becomes tricky, because those same things can actually be kind of interesting by the end.

I spent the first half of this book being really frustrated with damn near everything, laughing and rolling my eyes when I should have been, I don't know, shivering in sympathetic terror, I guess. And then there came a point right about the middle when I thought, you know what would be kind of neat? If this had a twist ending where [big fat spoiler]. And then I started to think that the only thing that could redeem the book and make me look at all of my little annoyances in a different light would be that [big fat spoiler].  But the book kept going on and on, and though things got a little weirder, and then occasionally less-weird, I started to doubt the book would be redeemed. But wouldn't you know it? [Big Fat Spoiler] right there at the very last second. Well, I'll be.  And so there is was, the BFS, and I'm sitting there thinking 2 things:
1. This gives the book interesting reread potential, which is funny because I didn't think I'd want to finish it, let alone reread it; and
2. This is going to piss people off. Or maybe amaze them. Or mostly piss them off, but amazingly so.

So it happened, the one thing I thought could maybe save this and make me like it, and for that, I have to kind of smile at Kate Brian and admit that there's a part of me that likes this. But I have to wag my finger at her, too, because she really drew it out to the very last minute, and is it too little, too late? Well...sorta, yeah; there needs to be a balance. In the end, the things I didn't like about it made sense and even seem almost necessary, but to get to a place where it works, readers have to make it all the way to the end. In an often-frustrating book, that may not always happen. If this weren't fairly engaging and quick, I probably would have given up on it, and I never would have known that things worked for the world. You have to give the reader a reason to go with it, and if you don't, it doesn't matter how snazzy or perfectly-suited your twist ending is. If you give me piece of pie and the first few bites taste like crap (or even just bland and pedestrian), you can't be surprised when I don't want to finish it, even if you insist that the last few bites will totally change my mind. I want the whole slice to be good, dammit. There are a lot of calories in pie. Each bite should be worth it.

I've gotten offtrack.*
What I'm trying to say is, I'm TORN.  A twist ending is 10% of a book, tops. I need to care about the other 90%, too. So, yes, part of me likes this in hindsight, and even thinks it will make for an interesting reread; but part of me thinks it's just silly and slapdash, and full of really unlikable characters and unlikely events, that is hastily (but interestingly) pulled together in the end.  Personally, I could have done with a lot fewer cliches and a lot more slow-burning thriller. There could still have been unlikable or questionable bits that click into place in the end, but with something more worthy to pull me along. But this would make a good movie, I think, and I have to wonder if perhaps it was written to be? A lot of authors seem to be writing things with the goal of having it optioned and potentially making bank on a franchise, and though that's another pet peevish trend I do want to discuss someday, I'm not going to use Shadowlands as a platform to do so. In the end, this book is truly going to come down to each individual reader, and I find it nearly impossible to predict which side of the fence any one person will fall on. Maybe it comes down to whether you figure out twists waaaay too f*cking far in advance (like me =/) or whether they sneak up on you. I dunno. I will go so far as to say that I'm curious enough about the setup for the rest of the series - and more specifically, the main character's reaction to it - that I may even read book 2.
So there's that.
But there are a lot of pages in a book. Every page should be worth it.

See, it all comes back around...

OH! OH! OH! AND: This cover? Pretty much nothing to do with the book.

*Have you guys ever noticed how many food metaphors I use? Lest you think I'm some binge-eating, calorie-counting, obsessive foodie**: 1. for a long time I thought I was going to be a chef; 2. everyone eats. Food is something we can all relate to, so it's a good go to.
At least, that's what I'm going to tell myself the next time I compare a book to food.
**Okay, I sort of am an obsessive foodie. But not of the binge-eating type, and certainly not of the calorie-counting type. shudder.


  1. Oh man, this book. I wanted to like it a whole lot more than I did. I spent most of the book scratching my head. I hate the way Darcy and her dad acted - very cold and uncaring in light of what was supposed to be a very traumatic incident. I think I would have liked it more had it been what I expected: a contemporary thriller. Or if the twist had come a little earlier. But at the end, I was left with way more questions than answers.

    You are right though, it definitely has reread potential. I think when I have time to do a reread it'll be this. I want to see what I think of it knowing the ending.

    And the twist? I don't know. About 5 pages from the end I was like "what if *this thing* is what's going on?" and I ended up being right. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

  2. Too bad you didn’t like this, Misty. I definitely know what you’re talking about in relation to books that are too cinematic to be books. Some authors (especially ones who’ve also written screeplays, I’ve noticed) tend to rely too much on how the visual aspects of a scene would work, rather than how that scene would come across to readers who don’t fully understand what the author intended with his/her imagery.

  3. Beka - see, that's exactly what I mean about how this review would be different on any given day. Because when I was organizing the review in my head, I had this whole rant about her dad and Darcy - especially Darcy - and it didn't make it in, other than 1 line about unlikable characters. But I DO want to talk about that, so I might have to update it at some point, or work it into a discussion somewhere.
    I also thought that it just often didn't feel realistic, partly because of their selfish - and stupid - reactions, but also for the way it handled the serial killer aspect in general. Like, the cops having them meet up at their house instead of a police station, the FBI conducting the interviews there, and revealing way too much, the easiness of their Witness Protection program (here, take this packet and go here. Nah, you don't need anyone to help you/coach you, etc...), Rory's continuously thinking about whatshisface and wanting to call and flirt - things just didn't WORK, and though they work more in hindsight, it's still an issue.

    Renae - I don't think it's so much a question of readers not understanding intended imagery. I think it's a case of things being really cheesy and just flat not working in a book, things that movies can sometimes get away with. It's cliched aspects and heavy-handedness.

  4. Yep. This book completely frustrated me. It started strong and then got lost in a morass of illogic and idiocy. The twist at the end did not save it for me. I skimmed through most of the middle and don't feel like I missed a thing. Sorry if a serial killer has attacked me and the FBI sends me off on my own...I'm so NOT going where they sent me. I'm trading cars, checking every belonging for electronics and REALLY disappearing. But maybe I have just read/watched too many serial killer books/TV shows.

  5. OMG FOR REAL. Those FBI agents were the most unrealistic things I've seen in a good long while. IN WHAT WORLD would the FBI send a family off on their own into witness protection without any briefing, and training, etc, just a packet of info and a "don't call us, we'll call you"? You're putting your LIVES into their hands? Um, no.


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