RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan

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Title: Shadowdance
Author: Kristen Callihan
Publication Info: Forever December 2013
ISBN: 978-1455520817
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book Shadowdance This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Caty B. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

Once a heart is lost in shadow…

Life has been anything but kind to Mary Chase. But the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals has given her purpose. Now she's been tasked with catching a vicious murderer dubbed the Bishop of Charing Cross. But someone is already on the case—and the last thing he relishes is a partner.

Only someone who lives in darkness can find it.

Jack Talent has been alone with his demons for many years. He never expected to have the willful Mary Chase assist him on the Bishop case. Their age-old rivalry reaches new heights—even as their desire for one another reaches a fever pitch. Though he aches to bring her close, Jack's dark secrets are a chasm between them. With dangerous enemies closing in, Jack must find the strength to face the past…or risk losing Mary forever.

And here is Caty B.'s review:

Squee, and happy sigh, and squee again. I enjoyed this book so much. There was banter and a fast-paced plot. The world-building was detailed, the characters were well-developed, and I am failing to find anything that isn’t made of pure squee.

Shadowdance was dense. I burrowed through this thing like it was a giant cake, and anyone watching me would have occasionally heard a muffled shout of “Another! I’ve reached another layer! Someone get me a new fork, I’ve worn the tines off this one!” On its surface, the plot was a somewhat traditional murder mystery with two investigators searching for clues, but it was complicated by multiple killers, an abduction, and blackmail. Picture Miss Marple with more sex, violence, and demons. I’d like to think that Mary Chase and Miss Marple are soul sisters in an observers-of-humanity, nervy-as-hell, there’s-a-difference-between-law-and-justice kind of way.

So there was the mystery of who killed who, along with who suspected what about whom, but that was also intertwined with huge themes about what can be forgiven and what can’t, how much someone would risk for another’s safety, and how someone’s feelings about retribution might develop as his or her priorities change. So, yes, dense is the word.

Investigators Jack Talent and Mary Chase each have baggage like whoa, and I loved the way they gradually worked through it all. I get frustrated when characters change suddenly after hundreds of pages of wallowing. No matter how valid their issues originally were, if they abruptly become mature and balanced without earning it I am going to fantasize about creative ways to use my cake-eating fork. But in this story, it was all justified, and you get to see how the characters changed as each challenge was hurled at them.

I think it’s fair to say that if you have certain triggers, you should be aware that MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (Highlight text to read): Jack had been rejected by his birth family and tortured by his sadistic uncle (who happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, because of course he was). Those problems were dwarfed by his guilt about his role in Mary’s death, plus his own previous capture, torture, and rape. Mary had also been raped. Both times occurred before the book began, so they were referred to in memories but not described in great detail.

Jack was still fighting the memories of his past (and I thought his staccato, harsh flashbacks rang true), and he was capable of dreadful things, but he was also smart, and quick-witted, and admired the happiness of his closest friends. Mary was a great balance of skilled but not invincible, which meant the fight scenes held real jeopardy. She was a good strategist and never threw herself into a fight when there were any other options. The only time I wasn’t completely behind her was when she was furious with Jack about his previous behavior, but she dealt with her anger and forgave him. She was strong enough to confront dangerous people, but not immune from feeling fear while doing it. I appreciated how active, pragmatic, and philosophical she was.

Each had serious issues that haunted them to varying degrees; Mary was further along in her healing, and she was able to help Jack as he fought the path his torment was tempting him down. When Jack confessed his feelings about one of the terrible things that had happened to him, Mary refrained from touching him; she was experienced enough to know that in that situation, touch would be comforting for the person hearing the confession but it would shatter the person giving it, so she held back and just listened. They were great together.

The banter was wonderful. It wasn’t that kind of faux banter where it’s just a pointless argument with no subtext or ratcheting up of tension, like watching two stoned cats bat a used tissue back and forth. This was the real thing – there was spin and sizzle and personality, and each word told you more about the person who said it, how they felt about each other and how that grew every time they spoke.

I loved the world-building. Shadowdance is the first book I read in the series, but it is the fourth book in chronological order. I was able to jump right in and go with it. There was no unnecessary exposition; I could just pick things up as I went along. And the people who are going to be the leads in the next book didn’t feel shoehorned in; what happened to them was a crucial part of the plot, and I was pleasantly stunned at the situation they’re going to have to deal with. (I checked for the release date of the next book as soon as I finished this one, and I normally don’t ever do that – I usually assume I’ll hear about new releases when they happen.  Not this time. The next book has joined the short list of authors I actively check up on so I can’t possibly miss their books).

The London of this world is described beautifully. I’m in a desert, sacrificing every goat I can get my hands on in the hope of some relief from the heat, and yet one paragraph about the coal-flecked snow actually made me shiver. The fight scenes are convincing; they get across the disjointed, quick, not-sure-what’s-happened-until-afterwards nature of fighting. There were lovely little details, like the callback to the cuff scene from the prologue. It was just one sentence in the middle of the book, and it was happy-sigh inducing.

I admit, the inner monologue construction of “Goddamn but…” or “Piss and shit but…” sometimes has irritated me in other books, but it didn’t in this one. I think that kind of thing often comes across as a shorthand method of characterization, and it’s annoying when the character doesn’t haven’t much depth and you have to rely on a veneer of phrases to try to get at who he is. But Jack was well-developed, so the stylized cursing didn’t come across as a cheap trick.

Shadowdance was serious and fun, terrifying and exuberant, and I’m thrilled to have found a new-to-me writer with a backlist to glom. Callihan plotted tightly, fashioned an intriguing world with thought-provoking concepts, and kept the action and tension escalating while still weaving in tiny calm bits so you could get your breath back. Actually, I’m happy that I started with this book first, because I loved meeting these two people at this exact point in their lives. It’s a solid A.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Evelyn Alexie says:

    You make me want to read this, but I need to ask: do you often have the oppotunity to watch stoned cats playing? I suspect I have been living a sheltered life.

  2. 2
    Shannon says:

    I have the first book of this series on my Kindle.  But all the sales and the great reviews and an old favorite author with a new medieval that feels medieval, well there aren’t enough hours in a day or days in a week, etc.  Yes, I’ll be doing more clicking, you evil reviewer you!

  3. 3
    Caty B says:

    @Evelyn – You know, now that I think about it, my life has become sheltered too – my current cat is a teetotaler. But when I was a kid, there was a patch of catnip in the yard, and tons of cats, and they all imbibed in different ways – some ate it, some sniffed it, some rolled in it. The funniest just sat there, his head buried in it, and refused to move for the whole day. But the metaphor is a damned lie – I never saw them play while stoned. They mainly went crazy or went mellow.

    @Shannon – Mwahaha! Active the evil finger-twiddley-gesture-thing! I hope you love it – it’s really stuck with me. I’m still getting happy tingles when I think about it. Evil reviewer-me is delighted to have ensnared you, but reader-me is about to get the first book in the series and is with you on needing an extra day a week for all the wonderful recs there have been recently.

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