SPFBO: A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy

Series: A Tale of Stars and Shadow #1Rating: 8.2/10
Date of Publishing: June 19th 2019Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy
Publisher: Self-PublishedNumber of Pages: 500

 


Blurb

The Councilate controls everything except the truth. I have nothing save my discovery—but with this shall I destroy an empire.

Tai Kulga lost the rebellion and his best friend on the same day, stripping him of his will to live even as a strange power flooded his bones. When the friend returns as a spirit guide, it feels like a second chance—but his friend is not who he was, and the Councilate is not done oppressing his people. When trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, he must go underground to find the last of the rebels and convince them to break his friends free.

Along the way he meets Ellumia Aygla, runaway Councilate daughter posing as an accountant to escape her family and the avarice of the capital. Curious about the link between spirit guides and magic, her insights earn her a place among the rebels, and along with Tai’s power help turn the tide against the colonialists.

But as the rebels begin to repeat the Councilate’s mistakes, Tai and Ellumia must confront their own pasts and prejudices, before the brewing war turns them into the monsters they fight.

 


Belle’s Review – 7.5/10

I was quite sceptical of this book in the beginning. The first 50% or so was enjoyable to read, but there were a couple of things that niggled at me throughout the book. I’m very glad I persisted though, as the characters were engaging, the world building was delightful, and I am absolutely going to continue the rest of the series.

The dual POV was a great way to see such different aspects of the city, both from a geographical and cultural aspect. Learning how everything worked from Talyn’s perspective made it easier as the reader to get a grasp on what was happening, with additional context and information provided by Shadowhawk. I quite liked the interplay between the two main characters, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that develops over the series, especially after the twist at the end (one that was planted quite nicely, in my opinion).

I also liked the secondary characters making up Tal’s new warrior group – they each had their own skills and flaws and watching them come together was quite heart-warming. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the rest of the series. 

There were a couple of things that did let the book down for me though. It was difficult at times to see the point of Shadowhawk’s rebellion – for someone that had a whole POV to himself, he didn’t actually seem to rate highly on anyone’s most wanted list for all the bluster, and I’m still not entirely sure WHY he’s doing what he is. I assume that will be explored further in the next book, but for a story that goes to a lot of effort to explain a lot of things, that was one area I found a little lacking. 

And that leads me to the other thing that niggled at me – there were several times where there was a lot of unnecessary exposition, and just as many where more explanation was needed. Constant repetitions of titles and races as adjectives rather than the nouns they are was quite grating, especially as most of them didn’t come with any initial explanation or context. There were a couple that took me a long time to figure out whether they were the names of warrior divisions or separate races, and I didn’t enjoy that at all. A little bit more set up before Talyn is rushed off to her new posting would have saved a lot of headache later. 

In all though, I found it to be engaging and well-written overall, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more!


Jen’s Review – 9/10

A request for a Kingshield guard to another country, normally would be denied because the Kingshield’s are used strictly for the protection of the Dumnorex family (basically royalty) but this request is the perfect opportunity to gather intel on the Shadowhawk whose Robin Hood-esque activities have become interesting to certain people of rank.

Enter Talyn Dynan, a Dumnorex princess who was once part of the elite Callanan soldiers, until the loss of her partner and friend, Sari. Now she is basically hiding in the Kingshield, pretending everything is fine to those her know her. This mission is her last opportunity to gather her life back.

***

This starts off feeling like any other broken leader gains a team and has to whip them into shape story and as trope-filled and somewhat predictable as those stories can be – there is nothing I enjoy more than an underdog team story and this was so much more than just team building.

Talyn is competent, clever and she is fiercely protective of her team. She genuinely cares about people. You would never know she carries around some pretty large wounds in her soul from the loss of her Callanan partner to see her in action. That wound, runs deep. Her confidence is at a low and she is hesitating with decisions and with people, scared she will have to face, or cause, that kind of loss again.

I didn’t warm up to Talyn right off. Some of this is my aversion to broken characters spending time thinking about how they are broken (I think there are better ways of showing us) and some of this may be to do with her past partner Sari’s voice in her head, which does help soften Talyn to us (and to cut down on the inner monologue feel of working out problems) but might have worked better for me, if I had gotten to know Sari a little better first and seen their relationship in action- so I didn’t spend my time trying to decide if this really was Sari, or if Talyn was just trying to keep Sari close by pretending it was. (Or maybe it came down to the fact that I have read like four books recently using the head-voice crutch and I was overthinking it all.)

Either way, I did admire Talyn as a character and I enjoyed the story around her, which made a huge difference while waiting for her to eventually worm her way into my heart. I didn’t even realize how much she had come to mean to me until the moment in the story when she is reflecting on how far her team has come and how proud she was of them and their accomplishments, and I felt every bit as proud of them and of her.

The rest of the team is rounded out with a collection of interesting characters – some I found more interesting than others but all I came to love and root for by the end. I am excited to see how (or if) they have roles in the next book.

***

This was just an enjoyable read all around for me. The pacing was great, the reveals nicely placed and shown in ways that while the story is using the old build a team trope- it never felt tired or overdone to me because so much was happening around it.

This story also hit a lot of my likes with the building the team dynamics, and the mystery of who the Shadowhawk might be (cos who wouldn’t want to read a fantasy mash-up of the Mighty Ducks and Robin Hood). Couple those loves with the very complicated city of Mithranar, with its huge divide in class, political in-fighting and culture of the Winged-people (which was enough to keep me interested in this story by itself) and we have barely touched on the Dumnorex family, the Callanan and the possible power plays their country’s may have going on in the background – I was just intrigued all around.

I had such a feel-good sense of satisfaction when I finished this story, I was ready to run out and grab the next book immediately upon finishing (and would have if I wasn’t drowning in requests).

To sum it up because this is getting lengthy, I loved it!

Other notes

I don’t think it would have hurt the story to have left the reveal of the Shadowhawk’s identity until the next book – it did feel a little tagged-on to me.

It might have been me, and maybe I’ve read one to many alpha-male romances but it kind of felt like behind Prince Cuinn’s sneer, he was fascinated with Talyn. I have to admit I kind of shipped them even though he is privileged and nasty, but he did seem a little lonely at times- like he is hiding his hurt little soul behind a foul veneer. (I’m totally a sucker for that kind of character and this worked for me here because we don’t see him thinking about how broken he is)


Nick’s Review – 8/10

This book started out a bit slow but then really picked up about 75 pages in. I’m glad that I stuck with it because it ended up being one of my favorite of the finalist reads. The book tells the story of skilled warrior and princess of Dumnorix, Talyn Dynan, who is one of the greatest warriors that her people have seen in almost a century. After the inexplicable death of her partner, Talyn is left broken and a shell of her former self. So much so that she quits the elite force that she is part of, settling for another less-formidable squad that she feels may be less-likely to be called into action and as a result, she can stay out of any decisive battles for the foreseeable future.

Her best laid plans go awry however when she is suddenly summoned on a secret mission deep into the recesses of neighboring Mithranar, a place where a mysterious winged race resides. What exactly the purpose of this mission is remains to be seen. As things get clearer though, Talyn must face and overcome her own guilt if she ever hopes to get back to the brave warrior that she once was. Meanwhile in Mithranar, The Shadowhawk operates as a renegade trying to keep the humans safe who live under the tyranny of the winged folk. He often resorts to crime and theft in this endeavor, knowing that stealth and surprise is the only weapon that can be successful against his mighty oppressors.  Could Talyn’s arrival portend a new hope for the humans living in his land, or will she only serve to cast Mithranar further into chaos and spell the end for his people once and for all? For hope is a very dangerous thing indeed if entrusted to the wrong individual.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. I found it to be really engrossing at times and I had a hard time putting it down when things began to get intense. Lisa Cassidy has written a fascinating story that also deals a lot with different classes and how prejudice often clouds people’s thinking. This fantasy story was also a very effective vehicle for an impactful social message and it most certainly comes through in the writing. It had a profound effect on me as I finished the story and it actually made me pretty emotional to tell you the truth.

If you are looking for a lighthearted fluffy fantasy read, then you should probably pick up some David Eddings or Terry Brooks, because this isn’t going to be your cup of tea.  But if like me, you appreciate a fantasy book that deals with some serious stuff and tackles tough issues as well as entertains you along the way, then A TALE OF STARS AND SHADOW should be your next read. This one stuck with me and I was pleasantly surprised when all was said and done.


Belle
: 7.5/10   Jen: 9/10   Nick: 8/10

Our official SPFBO 5 rating for A Tale of Stars and Shadow:

8/10

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