RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

C-

Title: Shadow's Claim
Author: Kresley Cole
Publication Info: Pocket 2013
ISBN: 9781451650051
Genre: Paranormal

Book Shadows Claim This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Sybylla18. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:     

Shadow's Claim features Prince Trehan, a ruthless master assassin who will do anything to possess Bettina, his beautiful sorceress mate, even compete for her hand in a blood-sport tournament—to the death.

He won't be denied…

Trehan Daciano, known as the Prince of Shadows, has spent his life serving his people, striking in the night, quietly executing any threat to their realm. The coldly disciplined swordsman has never desired anything for himself—until he beholds Bettina, the sheltered ward of two of the Lore's most fearsome villains.

She's bound to another…

Desperate to earn her guardians' approval after a life-shattering mistake, young Bettina has no choice but to marry whichever suitor prevails—even though she's lost her heart to another. Yet one lethal competitor, a mysterious cloaked swordsman, invades her dreams, tempting her with forbidden pleasure.

A battle for her body and soul…

Even if Trehan can survive the punishing contests to claim her as his wife, the true battle for Bettina's heart is yet to come. And unleashing a millennium's worth of savage need will either frighten his Bride away—or stoke Bettina's own desires to a fever-pitch.

And here is Sybylla18's review:

The C- is actually a composite grade, because I feel like the book needs two different ones: one for my response if I read it with my brain turned off, and a second for what happens when I actually start to think about the circumstances swirling around the heroine, Bettina.

Unthinking grade: B+

While I am generally un-fond of alpha heroes and the one-true-pairing trope that now seems to be required in paranormals, I love Cole's Immortals after Dark series, and this is a worthy addition to her canon. The supporting characters are fun, especially Bettina's invisible servant, Salem. He has some great lines, as when he informs her that “I'm giving you an aloof yet mysterious shrug,” and he tries to look out for her…much more than the people who ought to be caring for her do (more on that later).

Bettina herself is young – 22 years old – and still recovering emotionally from being savagely brutalized in the opening pages of the book: one cadre of immortal beings, the Vrekeners, are the sworn enemies of all Sorceri, which Bettina herself is (well, half-demon, but the Sorceri half is dominant). The book starts with Bettina in the process of being beaten to death, and while she has recovered physically by the time the story proper begins, her reclaiming of her confidence and sense of safety is one of the subplots of the book. One of the ways she does this is by creating jewelry that doubles as armor and concealed weaponry, something she is extremely skilled at, and a character detail that I really liked (although I kept getting distracted: she apparently works exclusively with gold, which is a soft metal. Cole describes a gold breastplate, and I start imagining how completely it could be destroyed by a steel sword).

The hero, Trehan, is a vampire, and well over 900 years old. (Even without thinking about what I'm reading, I am really, really, really squicked out by this. Edward Cullen has nothing on this guy when it comes to cradle robbing.) He's a serviceable enough character, but I didn't find much to differentiate him from all Cole's other at-least-6 1/2-feet-tall, heavily muscled, ridiculously-skilled-at-warfare, emotionally-stunted, aggressive-and-possessive heroes. If you like her other heroes, you'll like him.

The basic plot involves a potential love triangle and a tournament: Bettina has a long-standing crush on her childhood friend Cas, and she has agreed to be the effective prize in a winner-take-all (losers-all-die) contest for her hand in marriage and subsequent rule over her plane of existence (because she's the princess of the death demons, natch). The story proceeds pretty much as you'd expect, without much in the way of surprises and with the usual brief cameos from a few of the characters from earlier IAD books. (The cameos are rare enough and handled with a sufficiently deft touch that they feel organic to the story and not like a big ol' family reunion.)

Overall, the book works. It isn't a revolutionary addition to the series, but it doesn't need to be. I was caught up in the story while I was reading it, and I stayed up way too late in order to finish it. It's stand-alone enough that a reader new to Cole's books wouldn't be lost, but it blends seamlessly with the larger mythology and overarching plot of its parent series. As long as I don't think about it, I have no hesitation about recommending it.

Thinking grade: D-

I can't not think about the things that bother me about this book, though. Everyone has their own hangups and hot buttons when it comes to story elements, and the things that get to me might roll off your back. That said, the entire setup of this book makes me incandescent with rage. I have a fairly strong go/no-go line when it comes to issues of consent, and this book breaks the sound barrier in its rush to cross that line. (I find most of the IAD books problematic to one degree or another with respect to this, but I can usually acknowledge that and then put it to the side because of my overall enjoyment of their stories.)

Be warned: I will spoil some minor plot details in talking about this.

OK, so you remember how I said the book opens with some Vrekeners brutalizing Bettina? The very first sentence is “A savage kick to Princess Bettina of Abaddon's back severed her spinal cord.” She is naked, broken, violated in the deepest way as her attackers have stolen her soul-power, suffering the last physical tortures her attackers have planned prior to their setting her on fire. She is rescued from this death – albeit in a way that subjects her to further humiliation and violation – when her uncle summons her back to her realm: she winds up sprawled on the floor of her own throne room, in full view of her courtiers.

The tournament I mentioned? It takes place three months later. Yeah, she's physically recovered, but she is wrecked emotionally. She is terrified the Vrekeners will come back, traumatized by what she has suffered. She doesn't need to preside over an aggressively violent tournament for control over the plane of the death demons; she needs a long stay on the plane of warm blankets, hot tea, therapy dogs, and intensive PTSD counseling.

The violence she witnesses in the tournament distresses her, and she is revolted by and frightened of most of the beings who have entered it. The second chapter deals with how her desperately trying to find a way to get out of being offered up as the prize. So why did she agree to it to begin with? Because when her godparents proposed it, “she'd been sobbing, telling them, 'Yes, yes, I'll do anything. Just get me my power back!'”

She agreed because they “pushed so hard. Because [she] feel[s] unwhole without [her] power. Because they withheld the worst details of” it from her.

Her “agreement” has nothing to do with consent. Her godparents have knowingly taken advantage of her trauma and violation to manipulate her into agreeing to their plans, plans that – to repeat – involve her being forced to marry whichever being succeeds in killing all the rest, no matter that she doesn't want to do so. One entrant is described as not “an anatomical match for her”; another is quoted as planning “to remove all [her] teeth, so that [she] can handle his 'penile girth.'” Neither of these is even one of the ones who terrify her most.

Her godparents have made promises to her as well, to be delivered at the end of the tournament: her uncle has promised to hunt down and kill the Vrekeners who attacked her, and her godmother has promised to return her soul-power to her. The catch? SPOILER They've lied to her. Her uncle has no way to to reach the Vrekeners, which he knows perfectly well. Her godmother is only able to steal back Bettina's soul-power because Trehan gives her a certain weapon; at the time she made the promise, she also was going to be unable to keep it. When Bettina expresses some of her reservations about the tournament, her godmother feels no compunction about manipulating her with reminders of what she has suffered: “Do you remember what you told me when we were tucking your ribs back into your torso like little babes under a blanket?”

Bettina's relationship with Trehan is largely consensual (outside of the whole one-fated-Bride trope, the nonconsensual nature of which he recognizes himself), but even he has moments of asshattery that might have escaped me if not for all the violations and betrayals inherent in the surrounding plot.

Fundamentally, this is a book in which a survivor of horrendous violence is lied to and manipulated by her guardians, who convince her to surrender her remaining agency, and placed in a situation where she can only watch while she waits to find out which being is going to receive official dispensation to rape her. I can't give it a failing grade because I was able to turn off my brain while I read it, and because I – generally – liked Bettina and Trehan's relationship, but the setup of the story completely kills it for me the moment I reengage my brain.

Average of the two: C-


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    MissB2U says:

    Let me preface this by saying that I in no way condone misogyny, rape or any other sort of violence against women.  The worlds in which many of these paranormal stories take place as well as their denizens are most often described as harsh, cruel, deceptive and focused only on personal gain.  Strength is prized, weakness is exploited.  (Again, not saying this is how our world should work.)  So in the context of these worlds what happens in Cole’s stories is not that surprising.  There are other writers who also portray the stark realities of the fae, weres, demons, elves, etc. but without all the details.  That is what makes the difference for me.  I’m not bothered by how harsh these worlds are; I prefer a less graphic description.

  2. 2
    Sybylla18 says:

    I understand what you’re saying, and the violence in the rest of the IAD books doesn’t bother me in the same way; I can accept it as part of the worldbuilding.  What got me about this one was that Bettina is explicitly still suffering from the emotional and psychological fallout from her attack, and that is compounded by the – to me - perfect storm of consent violations in the rest of the plot.

  3. 3
    Vasha says:

    Thanks for this review. Reminds me a bit of comments I’ve heard about A Song of Ice and Fire and other “grimdark” fantasies wondering why they heap disproportionate amounts of abuse on female characters…

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    @MissB2U: I completely understand your point of view – and am bummed that you (completely understandably) feel the need to frame your comment with the statement that you don’t condone violence against women. I don’t think that anyone who liked this book therefore likes violence against women…. and yet I understand completely why you framed your comment that way.

    @sybylla18: I think you did a truly good job of explaining why the consent violations (really good term) were so abhorrent to you. This review was awesome. Thank you.

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