A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series
Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar’s court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough…
Shadowblade is a book which has a little bit of everything. It picks and chooses from traditional epic fantasy tropes, while having a modern feel which keeps things interesting.
Our main character — Naia — was the sole survivor of a massacre that left every known member of the Challimar royal family dead. She was smuggled out of Challimar as a baby, and may or may not be its long-lost princess. Not that she knows that, of course, since she’s too busy training to be an assassin. She hopes that her peculiar affinity for blades will be enough for her to become a Jaihar blademaster, and maybe even achieve their highest rank: the Shadowblade.
Naia is a little prickly, though earnest. She’ll do the right thing no matter the cost to herself, but she doesn’t always trust those around her. She’s an enjoyable character to read about, for the most part, but I have to confess that I found her a little frustrating at times, and perhaps a little too reactive for my tastes. Her tendency to attack first and ask questions later is one which (very) many fantasy protagonists share, but it is at least justified here by the circumstances in which Naia is raised. In this world, everyone with power is playing their own games, using other people as the pawns.
But amidst all this politicking, Naia finds her way to a genuine relationship. Even if it seems like the world won’t allow her and her lover to be together. This romance is explored throughout the book, with feelings on both sides shown, and with a few intimate and physical scenes. It’s maybe a little insta-lovey, and I can imagine that some readers might find the initial power imbalance and slight age gap to be a little off-putting, but I thought that there was enough page time dedicated to this to flesh it out.
The fight scenes are well-written, engaging, and exciting, and there are about as many as you’d expect from a book about a trainee assassin. The story seems pretty linear at first, but there are plenty of twists and turns in the later half of the book to keep you guessing. I found that some of these were foreshadowed quite well, whereas others sort of seemed to come out of left field.
To sum everything up, I think this is a story that will really appeal to those who like twisty stories with a good mix of action and romance, and maybe even to some younger readers. While I didn’t really connect to the characters or story on a personal level, there is a lot there to like for the right reader.
Thank you to Angry Robot for providing a copy of this title in exchange for a fair and honest review.